Saturday, June 21, 2008

Magnificat - The Challenge to Women Today

That was the title of a conference I attended this weekend. I'd been asked to speak at the annual conference of the National Board of Catholic Women about being a Borough Councillor and a woman of faith. The other speaker was Prof. Tina Beattie (photographed with the NBCW president, Mrs Yogi Sutton), a wonderful theologian with the gift of being able to express deep thological concepts in language which ordinary people can understand. It may not seem at first glance that a Stockton Borough Councillor and an eminent Catholic lay theologian have a lot in common, but as our talks unfolded it became obvious that what she was saying was as relevant to the challenges facing women today as it had been in the times described in the Christian Gospels. We still face the issue of ensuring that women have the self esteem and self confidence to do what they believe is right, even in the face of pressure to do otherwise. The review which I chaired two years ago on Teenage Pregnancy showed how much that is needed. And that's just one small example. I'm sure there are men who need the same support, but this was a conference about women so I make no apologies for concentrating on us, just for a weekend.

The rest of the conference was taken up with workshops and discussions on a number of topics. I was very interested in London Citizens, a strong alliance of people in London who seem to be succeeding in making sure that the Mayor of London does implement some policies for the real benefit of the citizens. The London Living Wage is one example, and they're now campaigning for community land ownership as a way of helping to tackle the shortage of really affordable housing in the city for ordinary workers. I was told that Birmingham now has a similar organisation starting up and I wondered why other big cities didn't follow suit. It seems to be a way of bringing together a huge number of disparate communities to work for things which affect them all. We talk a lot about Community Cohesion, building sustainable communities and so on. Here is a group which is actually doing it, not just talking about it - widely different groups working together. Where else do we see real partnership working of faith groups, trades unions, schools, residents' groups and more on practical actions, not high level strategies?
So, much to think about and some new ideas to ponder and share with colleagues.

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