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Word of DivaManc is spreading

This month DivaManc has been featured in Public Sector Focus, UK and in Tribune Feminista, Spain!

(Our article as published in Public Sector Focus November-December 2016)

Putting the DIVA into Devolution

A growing group of grassroots women in Greater Manchester are creating spaces to play a greater role in the devolution agenda, within the #DivaManc campaign. Openly experimenting there are potential lessons for those looking to put collaboration at the heart of engagement.

Nicola Waterworth worked in local government commissioning services and managing change for over a decade and now works with individuals and groups to ‘make things happen’. She is a self-confessed Diva.

Back in autumn 2014 there was an outpouring of criticism when ‘that picture’ celebrating the signing of the Greater Manchester devolution deal presented political power in the region as, “pale, male and stale”. Two years on and it remains a powerful visual statement. Not least in light of the “déjà vu” last month when an almost identical tableau emerged from the Liverpool City Region, signalling it was no mere anomaly or historical artefact.

There’s no doubt that “taking devolution out of the town halls and into the communities is a huge task”, as Angeliki Stogia, Manchester Councillor and now combined authority Deputy acknowledges. But that formal mechanisms for engagement have been falling short has been backed by the findings of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. Feeling frustrated at the remoteness of the devolution debate from the realities of their daily lives and its patriarchal model of leadership Angeliki and a small group of women in South Manchester started a conversation to see if other women shared their concerns.

Eve Holt, one of the co-founders of #DivaManc explained the real picture of power is more nuanced, “Whilst pointing out what is wrong with ‘that picture’ we also have to look for the strengths we can build on. We have a proud history in Greater Manchester of women leaders and change-makers. Whether battling for the vote or smashing through glass ceilings, women have made and continue to make remarkable achievements in public life and in shaping the city region”.

Manchester in particular boasts a gender balanced Council, 12 of the wider region’s MPs are women and 15 of the combined authority’s 20 deputies are women. Yet Eve continues, “51% of the population remain underrepresented at every level of political power and the vast majority of political decisions are still taken by men. By working better together we can break the mould. #DivaManc aims to build a more Diverse, Inclusive, Vibrant and Accountable democracy”.

Only 3 months later #DivaManc has caught the attention of many in Greater Manchester as the campaign grows across both the physical and social media space. For the founders this demand demonstrates the vacuum that has existed; women see devolution as critical to progressing people’s lives and want to get involved. A central concern being expressed is that the dominant debate, centred on economic progress is not based in understanding the economic and social realities of the lives of women; a claim many see substantiated by continuing evidence that austerity disproportionately affects the lives of women across the country.

Opening spaces where women can engage on issues that matter to them locally and improve their lives is central, and it’s a long list that includes valuing care, tackling isolation, increasing women’s representation at the highest levels of political life, BAME inclusion, women’s return to work, women and Brexit and asking what can be done about Greater Manchester being judged the 3rd worse place to be a teenage girl in the UK.

But it is also how the conversations happen that matters; the organisers want to actively experiment and test different forms of governance and engagement, focusing on inclusive and safe spaces that create connections and support women to build power through their collaboration. In both physical and virtual space #DivaManc is utilising a wide variety of methodologies and facilitation techniques; one of these is ‘Open Space’ where meetings encourage individuals to take ownership of the agenda, responsibility for their experience and the outcomes. An open space “DivaManc Switch On” event saw 65 women attending on a wet and dark November evening to “take ideas to actions” and create 14 action groups, each with someone leading further work.

The campaign is deepening the potential for online collaboration as part and parcel of its work to support inclusion, transparency and scale. All outputs of events are published online and the conversation continues to spread on twitter under the #Divamanc hashtag. Women are encouraged to blog and an Instagram fuelled gallery is seeking to capture and promote an alternative image of power in Greater Manchester. Ideas for big data and mapping are all in the pipeline.Pro-actively facilitating the campaign online and in person are paramount to engage with all women; consciously seeking out community linchpins and connectors from diverse backgrounds to spread the conversation and build power in all corners of Greater Manchester.

Whilst initiated by Labour women #DivaManc views it as key to provide non-partisan space that celebrates women’s skills, experiences and contributions over their political ties to succeed.

Its early days to be evaluating impact and there is further work to collaborate with other organisations and groups across the city region already engaged in devolution debates. But there is a sense that real shifts are possible to achieve change, as Eve says, “Women across Greater Manchester feeling visible and empowered in their roles at every level of devolution – from the corridors of power to their daily lives in our communities.”

It was really exciting to connect with our Spanish sisters a couple of weeks later and see the article translated into Spanish and feature in Spain's Tribuna Feminista!

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