Women still in Profile
Variant Round Table Discussion
Social & Cultural Projects: Women's Strategies in Glasgow.
Paula Larkin, Variant (PL)
Following an approach to review Frock On women's music events,
we thought it a positive move to bring women together who were working
in different areas in social and cultural projects in Glasgow, to discuss
the issues that concern them. Participating were: Sandy Brindley from
Rape Crisis Scotland, Rosie Ilett from the Sandyford Initiative, Adele
Patrick of the Glasgow Women's Library, and Anne Kastner who has
knowledge of the Frock On events.
Rosie Ilett (RI)
The Sandyford Initiative came about in 2000 to bring together a range
of health services that already existed and to develop new ones. Based
in Glasgow City Centre, and with an additional 26 community based sites,
it's not a women only service, but developed partly within the context
of work done around Glasgow's women's health policy. Over the
last twenty years there has been a lot of strategic multi-agency development
to address inequalities in how women's health is constructed and
then supported. One of the main outcomes was the Centre for Women's
Health, which has been going for nine years (believe it or not). The Centre
is now part of the Sandyford Initiative and is a women only space - one
of its remits was/is to influence change in how health services were understanding
women's health. Sandyford is about a gendered approach to health - we
recognise how gender inequalities affect health. We try: to provide opportunities
for women to look at their own health issues, to influence health workers,
and to make changes.
Sandy Brindley (SB)
I work at the National Office for the Rape Crisis movement in Scotland.
The National Office was set up a year ago, before that it was a loose
network of local groups. There are eight rape crisis centres in Scotland,
four of whom are part of the network that I'm within, following a
split within the network between whether or not centres wanted to work
on a women only basis, or to work with men and women. It's a discussion
that's rooted within the history of Rape Crisis.
Rape Crisis was set up by local women who were either concerned about
rape or who'd had experiences of rape. It took a feminist analysis
of violence against women: that it was embedded within power structures
within society. It set up as an alternative to the response women were
getting at that time, particularly from the statutary agencies. Women
were saying they weren't being believed, and were getting a really
judgmental response. Centres have held on to the ethos of providing fundamental
things, like: a non-judgemental service, that a woman herself decides
what her needs are and we work with the woman around what she says she
needs. Often the response a woman can get is people telling her what they
think is best for her. Our view is that the woman herself knows best,
she's the expert on her life. There's lots of issues about the
over-medicalisation of women's reactions, which is still an issue
today. Women say they go to their GP and they just get a prescription,
they get antidepressants. That's not often the appropriate or helpful
One aim is to develop the Rape Crisis movement in Scotland - expanding
the service existing centres are able to offer, as it's a limited
level of service now. At the National Office, women are telling us they
can't get through to their local Rape Crisis Centre. They're
trying for weeks and can't get through - the reason is limited
opening hours and a waiting list, which is directly the result of the
lack of funding, which just isn't acceptable. It takes so much courage
to pick up the phone and make that call to a Rape Crisis Centre and no
one should be getting an answer machine.
I also look at setting up new Rape Crisis Centres, as there are big parts
of Scotland that have no provision at all.
Another part of the job, which has always been a part of the Rape Crisis
movement, is political campaigning, especially focussing on improving
the criminal justice system as women are telling us it's absolutely
hellish. If a women does report her incident to the police it can take
18 months for it to come to court - if it gets to court. Only 10% of
cases make it to court and only 6% of recorded rapes in Scotland lead
to a conviction. Once women get to court it's really a harrowing
and degrading experience they are put through. It's clear, the Justice
System is failing women that have been raped.
We're trying to challenge myths with facts, myths such as 'only
a certain type of woman gets raped', 'men rape because they're
sick' or because 'they've got uncontrollable sexual urges'.
Centres were trying to challenge these myths in the '70s and '80s
and they are still coming up decades later. A lot of work we need to do
is around awareness raising and campaigning to change attitudes and structures.
Anne Kastner (AK)
I've been an observer of what Frock On have been doing for the last
year and a half. The events stem from an all female collective that centres
on around a dozen women who live in the same building in the West End
of Glasgow. Their cultural events involve workshop days, music events,
self defence groups and so on. Posters around Glasgow initially alerted
me to them, and I felt a lot of people would welcome this kind of activity
as it seemed to be a move forward - it's something they've
said themselves, "they wanted to make feminism cool again".
They take their events or workshop days to places around Glasgow, bringing
feminism into the community rather than people having to look for it themselves,
so it was quite a help. But they weren't getting the type of publicity
they should. Nothing about it appeared in the media that I could see.
So I decided to write something about this, and that's what my personal
concerns are, how feminism is represented within the media now.
Adele Patrick (AP)
I'm the life long learning co-ordinator at Glasgow Women's Library.
The Library is an organic women's project which evolved out of Women
in Profile. When I see the Frock On projects I get nostalgic
because cultural inertia or the lack of foregrounding of women doing exiting
things is a trigger for women to mobilise. That's what was happening
in '87 with Women in Profile. The trigger was the announcement
that Glasgow was going to be City of Culture 1990. We were cynical enough
to think that it might not be a pluralistic cultural celebration.
We started organising and held a series of events during 1990. Lots of
women got involved, but most of the women at that time, including myself,
had no history of real work in women's organisations. So there was
a period of reflection after 1990. Myself and Kate Henderson (now involved
in Frock On) and other women were reflecting on what we wanted
to evolve out of that. We actually took on premises during 1990 and those
particular constituencies of women were using the physical space almost
as a locus for information exchange. One of the ways we started to conceptualise
ourselves as a sort of Library was from having other women from Women's
Libraries in Europe visit. Also, one of the projects we coined in 1990
was Castlemilk Women House - Rachael Harris, Cathy Wilkes,
Julie Roberts, Clare Barclay and other women were steering it. As part
of Women House's evolution, we had visited the Women Artists'
Slide Library in London where information on the Californian and English
womanhouse models were available. It was sensational to see such a volume
of stuff on women artists but that model wasn't particularly appropriate
to Glasgow, being soley academic and research centred. We had seen a huge
traffic of women who wouldn't normally use libraries come into our
original Women in Profile premises. We wanted to combine those
two elements, of collecting relevant information mainly made up of things
that women might donate themselves, but also making it as accessible as
possible. The library was launched in 1991, and in 1995 we moved here.
It strikes me as ironic and pleasing that a lot of the projects represented
here have been forged in a period where you wouldn't imagine such
projects would arise, be sustained, expand. If we look at our counterparts
in England you're going to see a different story the last couple
Now, we have a library resource over three floors in the city centre;
we're home to the UK's National Lesbian Archive and Information
Centre; we're home to a young lesbian and bisexual peer support project
LIPS, that has itself developed into a peer education project; an adult
literacy, numeracy project for women; a life long learning programme;
and Pat Crook is also the co-ordinator of the Scottish Executives Women's
Organisations Data Base - there's a database now based in the
library. We're trying to provide an array of learning opportunities
for women. We still have a strong arts core, both Literature and Visual
Arts - we had Elsbeth Lamb doing visual arts course recently, and Raman
Mundair has begun work as our Writer in Residence this month. She has
worked in a variety of media. After this period of growth, we feel more
confident about the plurality of use - there are lots of women with
different histories and diverse experiences using the library.
PL: Clara Ursitti, an artist and lecturer at Glasgow School of Art, who
couldn't be here, brought up the issue that a lot of women artists/students
don't see their work in any feminist context, and yet she sees historical
feminist influences in their work. The reaction is "it's not
feminist" or they think that's all been dealt with. In preparing
a lecture on women only exhibitions in Scotland, Clara couldn't find
out this information. The Scottish Arts Council who would probably fund
a lot of these exhibitions/events didn't seem to have any. Would
the Women's Library?
AP: I think a starting point would be visiting or contacting the Library
since many women's projects over the years have not been funded and
documentation is not necessarily archived by mainstream collections and
RI: A lot of the stuff that happens around women's issues or in community
settings is not necessarily disseminated or collected, or doesn't
get publicity. So there might be events going on that women don't
know about or be able to refer back to them as historical experiences.
That's why things like the Women's Library are important, but
that still relies on people donating or alerting the library's attention
to it. There's been a different kind of history in Glasgow in terms
of a lot of women's organisations that's different from say
London, because of the way public funding has happened. With the Greater
London Council there was a strategic and policy driven desire to resource
and build up women's capacity through women's organisations,
and obviously other organisations were supporting different groups within
the community. That made a huge impact over a certain period. When the
GLC was disbanded that had an effect on what has continued ever since.
Not just on women's organisations but on a range of community or
cultural organisations. But there has been a different experience in Glasgow.
There has been bits of funding in the last 10 years that has supported
in different ways bits of activity, not to necessarily build a huge women's
AP: In issue based territories, for example women and health, I see an
evolution of thinking. There have been open minded individuals in the
Council who have been in, or may have cut their teeth in, women's
politics. And there are some good women in the area of the arts. But,
frankly it is going to be those areas where women can be perceived in
that kind of 19th Century role almost, that can still lever funding more
easily. I know that the language we're talking about and the discourse
that has evolved is not couched in that way but philanthropic rather than
feminist orientated support even in the territory of prostitution or women's
health is still an issue in the funding discourses. I think the barriers
would be, for example, if Frock On wanted to establish a centre.
The Women's Library certainly hit these difficulties early on in
its history where, as far as the Council are concerned, you don't
fit into social work, you don't fit into education, into health,
and it's almost a luxury that we can't afford. I don't
think there's a fully developed discourse in terms of the funding.
PL: Can women drop into the Glasgow Women's Health Centre and the
Sandyford Initiative, what are the resources?
RI: It's evolved over time - in a way that a lot of the things
we've talked about have. The Centre was set up to see what areas
of unmet need there were and to do things to address that. A need for
women to access counselling as one issue of women's emotional and
mental health was a huge issue - women's experiences, negative
mainly, of accessing mainstream mental health services. The Centre started
at that point to develop a counselling service within a context of providing
individual support for women, but it's also about drawing to the
attention of mainstream mental health that these are the issues that are
coming in and these are the kind of factors that are affecting women.
You've got to take some cognizance of that when you're providing
a service. It's no point in us just providing service to every woman
because they're going to access other services and need to have an
appropriate response when they do that.
The Centre started developing a lending and reference library for women.
Similar ideas to the Women's Library - that women wanted to access
information that would improve their health, would address issues they
were concerned with, or increase their well being. They didn't feel
they would necessarily be able to find them in City Council libraries,
or that if they did they'd feel comfortable about borrowing them
or asking about books on child abuse or something. But somewhere like
the Centre For Women's Health obviously would give supportive information,
if asked nobody would be shocked or indicate that this was something they
hadn't come across before in terms of somebody speaking to them about
it. It was about access to information and forms of support within a women
only space. The library in Sandyford is now part of the City Council Library
Service, so anyone can now access anything in the Sandyford library via
any of the City Council libraries.
As we've developed the Sandyford Initiative some of those things
have evolved in a bigger way, so the counselling service within the Centre
has got more funding and it's now able to influence a lot of the
developments within mainstream primary care. There's a lot of mental
health developments now within the local healthcare co-ops. What CWH have
been doing is literally influencing some of that development in terms
of the competencies, awareness of issues that we will be expecting trust
counsellors within primary care to have. There's a whole journey
now of counselling being recognised as a National Health discipline and
a properly graded profession.
SB: I was really interested in Frock On and representations of
feminism but also about how we make feminism accessible. Thinking about
it in terms of how you actually get access to the women's movement
is one issue, a further issue is how feminism is represented, which then
means that quite a lot of young women are not wanting to touch it, because
of how they perceive feminism.
AK: There's a problem with visibility, with people knowing that these
services exist. I'm wondering how we could solve that problem? Integrating
into regular services is one answer, where going into a public library
is part of the whole service and not something they have to approach separately,
as that often puts people off. And leaflets might only be in the actual
place where the service is...
AP: It's interesting that there are women now (like Frock On
and one of Lucy McKenzie's Flourish series), deciding to do
women only events and that's fantastic. She's a well known young
woman artist in Glasgow and had a Riot Grrl history, I want to know from
Lucy what made her want to do that?
AK: It's not something I've heard about - we need better
communication through e-mail lists etc. I think people operate in these
little groups, that's what happened to Frock On, from this
thing called Lady Fest which started in the States they then inspired
people in London and then Glasgow to set up their own little groups, and
it's still going on. A lot of that is to do with the internet as
well. Some of Frock On's remit is to go out and to leave something
there in the community and to let people continue it on their own account.
But it would be better if there was an umbrella thing that you could always
go back to it. It's quite hard for individuals to set up something
and to sustain it.
There is an importance to having literacy education groups, another step
would be internet access. I know you're getting a couple of terminals
downstairs in the Women's Library, that's an empowerment tool,
if you can get hold of these tools that allow women to communicate with
SB: There's been discussion for a long time in Glasgow about the
need to improve services for women and men - but a lot of the discussion
is focused on women because the majority of rapes are committed against
women - to improve the response they get because at the moment it's
very fragmented. If a women goes to the Police she will invariably get
a male Police Casualty Surgeon, to which women are saying "No way" - that
experience is really violating and has been difficult to change within
the current system. Then she will have to go somewhere else to access
the Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) test, and somewhere else to get
any kind of physical injuries dealt with. There has to be a lot more joined-up-ness
of the immediate response. There's been a model developed in countries
including England called Sexual Assault Referal Centres to pull everything
together for women. Women can get a forensic if she wants it, even if
she does or doesn't report to the police she can still get the examination
and have the forensic evidence stored, because it's a very difficult
time to make a decision. If they have the option of going through the
forensic, because the evidence is lost so quickly, then they can then
make the decision in their own time. They also have within the Centre
access to support and counselling, medical and STI tests, joining everything
up. We've been involved in a planning group looking at what the models
are elsewhere and looking at what's going to work for Glasgow, with
a view to a pilot.
SB: There's been a lot of discussion in England of whether you should
broaden out the remit of Health Centres to include domestic abuse, and
child sexual abuse. It's difficult because as soon as you broaden
out, more and more women get access to this service but you loose its
specialism, which is difficult when rape has been so invisible.
It is an interesting time for women only services, where it feels increasingly
difficult to justify in a 'women only' way. There's a lot
of misconceptions about what we mean by women only services. It doesn't
mean we don't support the need for services for men, or that we want
to discriminate against men. What we're saying is there is a need
for women only space, but I think people are threatened by that. I would
absolutely support the development of services for men, but it's
really crucial that we fight for and retain the right for women only spaces
The issue of violence against women has been mainstreamed to a certain
extent which brings its own challenges in that statutory agencies have
to work from a gender neutral perspective, so it's how you fit those
two things together. We're saying absolutely, you need to look at
the needs of men that have been raped but we really need to focus on the
needs of women.
AK: You were saying you feel the need to justify women only services,
is that something quite recent, a backlash from the '80s 'we
have got feminism' type thing? Do people think because issues have
been mainstreamed that they've been dealt with and don't need
women centred services anymore?
SB: I've been involved in Rape Crisis for ten years, every time you
go to do a talk about the work you've been doing the first question
is "What about men?" In some ways I think that's a legitimate
question, but other times I think we're coming here saying 2 in 5
women are raped or sexually assaulted and that's your response!
AK: Do you think that's always something that's got to be struggled
against, it doesn't end and it never will?
SB: There are more challenges now. One challenge is within the lesbian
community. I do feel increasingly that there are certainly in terms of
Rape Crisis less lesbian women involved - why? Is it partly because
it's difficult just to get access to the women's movement now,
but also the impact of queer politics, that more and more young lesbians
are going into queer politics and that sometimes can conflict with a femenist
AP: It's important that there are young lesbian projects that are
based in a place like this [GWL] because they're going to bump up
against it, literally, in the archive, or in other places, and they're
going to make their own minds up about what's relevant for them just
now. It should be a fundamental choice for women to make their own mind
up but based on an array of information, some of which is historical,
but they're making their own history as well. It's important
they feel like they're forging something that has its place.
I do feel the onus of responsibility to be accessible, to be plural or
to take into consideration the needs of incredibly diverse communities.
I wish one of the benefits from our work might be that the audiences,
users, critics, enquirers of our organisations might level the same intensity
of questions at mainstream organisations, arts organisations, or other
mixed groups - how accessible to disabled people, minority, ethnic
and black people find these organizations?
That's a feature of contemporary women's organisations, they're
not going to be complacent. It's almost an automatic notion, how
are we going to network?
SB: There has been such a focus on partnership working within local authorities
in Scotland. Women's organisations are having to engage much more
because these partnerships have been set up, set up partly because of
the work of women's organisations!
Frock On people can also be contacted through their website: www.frockon.org
Glasgow Women's Library
109 Trongate (reception on 4th floor)
Glasgow, G2 7PA
T/F: 0141 552 8345, email
6 Sandyford Place
Glasgow, G3 7NB
T: 0141 211 6700
F: 0141 211 6702
National Office of Rape Crisis Scotland
1st floor, Central Chambers
93 Hope Street
Glasgow, G2 6LD
T: 0141 248 8848
F: 0141 248 8748