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Taking steps to help vulnerable women

PUBLISHED: 10:09 25 April 2018

Some of the Norfolk WI members who took part in the 2017 Women Walk the World Day. This year's event takes place on Sunday April 29.

Some of the Norfolk WI members who took part in the 2017 Women Walk the World Day. This year's event takes place on Sunday April 29.

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Mary Dorrell of Norfolk WI tells how members will be striding out on Sunday to help women in need.

A wave of friendship will travel around the world this weekend as women everywhere walk to raise Pennies for Friendship. In Norfolk too, WI members across the county will be out walking on Sunday April 29 on “Women Walk the World Day”.

Walks are being planned around the world... New Zealand, Malaysia, South Africa, Canada, USA - any country where there is a women’s organisation affiliated to the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). In England and Wales this includes the WI, one of the founding members.

ACWW connects rural and non-rural women and their communities worldwide and network through advocacy, partnership, sharing knowledge and local activities. Taking action that includes UN representation, access to better information resources, funding community development projects and training programmes.

Norfolk WI members are keen participants in this annual walk, with their own WI or at a Federation-organised event. In 2016 Norfolk WI members raised more than £3000 to support a programme for the Victims of Trafficking in Kibamba, Tanzania, designed to support 50 adolescent girls who have been rescued and placed in the care of the Sisters of “Daughters of Mary Immaculate” near Dar Es Salaam.

The girls had run away from home because of poverty, domestic violence or a lack of parenting, and found themselves in vulnerable situations. They were given accommodation, food, medical and psychological support in the centre.

Trafficking and slavery are not new to Tanzania. Last December I visited the site of the last legally-operating slave market in the world in Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania). It so shocked explorer and missionary Dr David Livingstone that it lead him to campaign for the abolition of slavery and the inhumane trafficking of humans. He, and his wife Mary, are revered across all the countries of East Africa.

Less well known in the UK is Edward Steere, the Anglican bishop who had a cathedral built on top of the slave market after it was closed in 1873. In the exact location where the whipping post once was, now is the centre of the altar. We were taken below to the pits where the slaves were stored.

Bent double, I visited both the slave chambers. Nowadays they have the benefit of windows but are only roughly the size of my living room at home. They had an upper level on which to crouch and what I took to be the walkway in, was in fact the channel to remove human waste. One chamber was for up to 75 women and children and a smaller one for up to 50 men. It was a shocking reminder of the inhumanity of the slave trade and movingly commemorated in the statue outside.

I returned to Norfolk as the WI were discussing modern slavery, which affects thousands of people in the UK every year. Victims are left facing servitude, forced or compulsory labour, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. It is a complex crime that takes a number of different forms. It encompasses slavery, servitude and forced marriage.

These crimes are being committed across the UK, taking place in many different sectors including factories, fields, brothels, nail bars and even within people’s homes. I feel fortunate to belong to the WI where we can not only discuss these issues, but are given the opportunity through ACWW to make a positive difference to women around the world.

So if you see a group of women out walking, on or about April 29, chances are they are Norfolk WI members spreading the news of the work being done around the globe by the Associated Country Women of the World, to improve the lives of women and girls and raising “Pennies for Friendship” to help small-scale initiatives make big improvements. Give us a wave as we pass by!

Mary Dorrell is Chairman, Communications Team, Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes

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