Archive | September, 2014

Labour Party Conference 2014, Manchester

24 Sep

Party conference season is, I always think, a bit like freshers’ week at university. A new term (Parliamentary), lectures (talks in the conference hall), tutorials (fringe events) and a vibrant social life with silly drinking games (of course the latter doesn’t happen at Conference and the hotel bars are a bit more expensive than the Student Union bar). As well as an opportunity to enthuse Party members and introduce new policies, it offers charities and other policy wonks the chance to mix more freely with the political classes.

This year Mothers’ Union is attending all three party conferences, and the Labour Party kicked off the season this year.

In the build up to the next election, Labour introduced a number of new policies. On Sunday, Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, announced Labour plans to revive SureStart, increase free childcare to 25 hours per week for 3 and 4 year olds of working parents, introduce childcare support at schools from 8am to 6pm, and require all teachers to be qualified. In her speech on equalities, Gloria De Piero, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, announced that the Labour Party would ensure the public sector monitored the race, gender, disability and socio-economic status of their staff in an effort to tackle discrimination and disadvantage.

On Monday, Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary for International Development, announced that Labour would put human rights at the heart of international development, provide funding for the International Labour Organisation, help prevent migrant workers from being exploited in Qatar in the build up to the World Cup 2022 and put universal health coverage at the heart of the world’s development ambitions.

And today, Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, announced that a Labour Government would bring in a new law on violence against women and girls, which would provide new powers to tackle female genital mutilation, tackle economic and labour exploitation across the world, introduce compulsory sex and relationship education into schools, and bring in new laws and a commissioner on domestic and sexual abuse, and fund a national network of refuges.

I had a couple of useful meetings during the week. I met with Sharon Hodgson MP to talk about our upcoming participation in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender violence and our concerns about the need for greater prevention work; the difficult funding and commissioning environment facing services that support victims and survivors of gender-based violence; and the need for resourcing perpetrator programmes. I also met with Jack Palmer from the Church of England and Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to discuss the policy priorities of Mothers’ Union, and the Church.

Fringe events proved stimulating and thought provoking. LabourList hosted ‘Dads’ Army’, along with the Royal College of Midwives, Barnardo’s and Working With Men, where the panel spoke about the importance of treating dads as dads in their own right, not just partners of a mother after having given birth; the impact of fatherlessness on children’s lives; and the importance of giving fathers decent paternity leave and pay. Women’s Aid hosted a fantastic event on ‘Can survivors of domestic violence count on Labour?’ We heard from a survivor about her experience; from Polly Neate of Women’s Aid about the challenges the women’s sector is facing in terms of funding cuts and the need for coercive control to be better understood and criminalised; and from Vera Baird QC, who is drafting th Bill for the Labour Party on violence against women and girls.

In all, this year’s Labour Party Conference has been far more instructive than those following their defeat in the 2010 General Election. The moto throughout the conference was “When we win the General Election in 2015…” and this is perhaps is what has given impetus for some more clearly articulated policies.

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Mothers’ Union Myanmar – care for the elderly

18 Sep

Saturday 13 September

I am lucky to find myself back in Myanmar for a short time, and today to my complete surprise, we found time in our schedule to go and visit one of MU’s most successful projects here in Myanmar – a care home for the elderly. The home is located about an hour outside of Yangon, in very rural countryside. As an indication of how fragile things remain in Myanmar, I was required to seek permission and register with the government, as a foreigner, before visiting the area.

Mothers’ Union Myanmar set up this home back in 2005, with members pledging 10 bricks each to the building of the site. Since then, the home has grown and developed to its current size. It is a modest facility;  it only has capacity for 20 women and the women share dormitories together with very basic facilities. What I saw today really moved me because as with so many things here in Myanmar, challenging situations are met gracefully, with a quiet but steely-eyed resolve to serve the community.

The home accepts women of all faiths and none – currently they have 8 Christian residents and 8 Buddhist residents. This is again indicative of the way that MU in Myanmar operates – while very much being an organisation of the Church, they are aware that they operate in a context where the majority religion is Buddhism and the MU recognise that the needs of families are similar regardless of faith and ideology. The way that MU is able to positively interact with, and engage, the Buddhist community here in Myanmar can teach us so much about what we are called to do, and who we are called to serve, in our Christian faith.

The ladies sleep in two shared dormitories (separated by ability/mobility), and they are looked after by 3 full time carers who cook all their meals and provide round the clock care. The carers have recently finished nurse training, while a local Doctor visits once a month to ensure these women receive due medical attention.

Impressively, the home is entirely self-sufficient; MU Myanmar receives no external funding to support the running costs (which are around 800 US dollars per month when the home operates at full capacity) which means that all 8,000+ members throughout the Province are relied on to support the home. This is no easy task, and encouraging contributions and donations can seem like an uphill battle at times, as many of us I’m sure, will understand! While these costs may not seem like a huge amount in a Western context ($3,400 fundraised in 2013 amid great need for funds elsewhere in the Province) it is so affirming to see such a commitment to provide quality care for the elderly, amidst many other great challenges that the MU here are trying to respond to. So often, care for the vulnerable and elderly can be seen as a low priority, and Myanmar is no exception to this. The women cared for in this home have so many stories, with such a rich history of living through more than 8 (or even 9) decades of tumultuous change in Myanmar, but for different reasons they find themselves alone in later life, dependent on the love and provision from the MU through this care home.

As someone whose elderly grandmother has struggled with different (and largely impersonal and clinical) care options in the UK while being treated for dementia, and amidst an ongoing discussion in the UK more generally about care provision for the elderly, I couldn’t help but pause and reflect… What could we learn from MU in Myanmar about the way we care for the elderly and vulnerable in our communities?

We hear often of the amazing work being done by our grassroots members all around the world, but only recently have we been able to more widely publicise the work being done in Myanmar  (and even now, I am careful to wait until I am out of the country before I post this blog). Please continue to keep the members of MU in Myanmar in your prayers and give thanks to God for their unwavering commitment to build on the work started by Mary Sumner all those years ago.Home for Aged 3 Home for Aged 2 Home for Aged 1