BFWG Westminster seminar: women and business – a woman’s right to entrepreneurship

The BFWG President introduced Baroness Garden of Frognal the sponsor of the seminar and tea at the House of Lords. A Liberal Democrat peer she has a wide knowledge of business skills through her role as a spokesperson.

The two speakers were Gwen Rhys the CEO of Women in the City and Sonia Brown MBE Director of the Black Women’s Network. Both have built up business careers with a high profile in public life. They are influential and active in championing diversity.  Each has nurturing and networking skills. They used their particular employment histories to indicate the obstacles but show how success in the business world and business creation can be achieved and opened up to more women.

Gwen Rhys can speak with knowledge of both the corporate world and running her own business. She decided against university opting instead for a business course and secretarial qualification. Her wish to support women led her into Enterprise for Women and networking. She accepted that she had been fortunate in being able to shape her own career and it was clear from her approach that she rated highly the energy and determination needed to push barriers.

Sonia Brown a grammar school pupil the daughter of immigrant Jamaican parents set off for design school and the fashion industry but it was not for her. She took up the personal challenge to make a difference and nourished the desire for women to have more including their own businesses. She has a commitment to the economic empowerment of women and to assisting women to replace their hesitations with aspirations. 

From different backgrounds and from different directions they saw their roles as enabling women to build up their life skills through training and mentoring. From the floor the questions and comments took up all these themes but went on to emphasise the need for more domestic and childcare facilities, financial assistance for families, tax incentives and support from partners.

One of the speakers had remarked that the Westminster seminar celebrating women was being held on International Men’s Day. As the BFWG President Gloria Banner shrewdly observed we nevertheless have to bring the men with us as we seek support for women.

Many thanks were expressed to all those who had participated in a stimulating discussion and particularly to Baroness Garden for her sponsorship.  

Article by  Elsie Gilliland


On Saturday 10th October BFWG Members and guests met to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Platform for Action against all forms of discrimination against women and girls agreed in 1995 in Beijing. After coffee and a welcome and opening remarks from Gabrielle Suff who had co-ordinated the day Chair of Finance Jennie Landsberg introduced the first speaker, Dr Elizabeth Poskitt, currently Mayor of Woodstock and a retired paediatrician involved with the European Obesity Group and well known to all Members as Chair of  the BFWG Scholarship Trustees. As a former National and International President she is well acquainted with ‘The Road to Beijing’ and treated us to an informative time-line stretching from the 1975 UN World Conference on Women in Mexico with six hundred attendees through 1980 in Copenhagen with eight thousand present, 1985 in Nairobi with fifteen thousand culminating in Beijing with thirty thousand. The Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) was established in 1946,  twelve  women’s NGOs, including our own umbrella IFUW (now GWI) achieved consultancy status with ECOSOC in 1947 and  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in 1948,  included the phrase ‘all rights and freedoms to be equally enjoyed by women and men without discrimination’. It was not until 1963 that the draft on ‘Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women’ was published, and it was only ratified in 1979 when CEDAW was adopted. Elizabeth noted that in the early meetings violence had not been mentioned, but after the decade for women the strength of the African women became evident at the Nairobi meeting where the problem of violence was acknowledged as the women’s movement had become more widely international. By 1995 ‘girl child’ was being included. In the Rio 1992 Summit women took an equal part as partners involved in Environmental Sustainability. Elizabeth also amused us with photos of the ‘relaxed chaos’ and ‘festival atmosphere’ in Beijing in spite of rain and wind battering the gazebos and tented compound where the meeting took place.

Vice President Patrice Wellesley-Cole next introduced Marianne Haslegrave, currently a Director of COMMAT and known to Members as a former National and International President. She spoke on ’20 Years after Beijing— What next?’ reviewing the five year assessments that had taken place during the 2000s. There had not been so many conferences as in the 1990s and she detected regression since 2000.The Millenium Development Goals on Gender were heavy volume documents with much verbage but not helpful in real terms. She mentioned the recent UN Commitment to Action  Declaration ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ which seems to ‘step it up’ for gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goals but deplored the invisibility of the UK at this event, in spite of David Cameron having chaired preparatory committee. She suggested we write to our MPs about this matter.

The second part of Marianne’s talk after lunch, concerned ‘UK Government Successes and Failures at the UN CSW59 in March 2015’ where she substituted for Helene Reardon-Bond, Head of Policy and Inclusion at GEO (Government Equity Office which replaced the Women’s National Commission). She welcomed the appointment of Michelle Bachelet as the first Executive Director of UN Women which has equivalent status to UNFPA and UNICEF so taking women’s issues to a higher level than before. However she suggested that there was a halt to major progress as there was division on reproductive rights and consequently there has been no adoption of ‘Agreed Conclusions’ after this year’s CSW 59, which had always occurred in previous years.

Finally, Dr Kay Richmond from Soroptimist International, and Chair of their UKPA Committee, gave an excellent presentation on ‘The Beijing Platform for Action—How relevant is it to the UK?’. Our President Dr Gloria Banner has excellently summarised her main points in the October Newsletter she sent via e-mail, accentuating the regrettable absence of women in senior positions in spite of the fact that girls do better than boys at school. With only 25% of MPs women are we even represented democratically? PfA is very much relevant to the UK it would seem! Kay very kindly made her statistics available to us and these are available on the website.

President Dr Gloria Banner finished by thanking the speakers for the thought provoking addresses we had heard and seen.

Jenny Morley IPP: October 2015

L to R Serena Dyer, Dr Gloria Banner, Dr Elizabeth Poskitt

During the day a presenation of the Marjorie Shaw Scholarship was made to Serena Dyer.