Let me say from the start – I’ve been a member of the WI since I was 15 – excepting my years at college, and five living in a city – no WI branches allowed in universities or cities back then, as they are now. (It’s good to see how well they are developing in these places now and how many young women are joining them!) This came about because my mum was going off to her WI meeting ON my 15th birthday… and, as that happened to be the age that you were allowed to join our branch of the WI back then .. I went along. (NB for insurance purposes, apparently, the joining age is now 18)
Now the WI (Women’s Institute) has developed an unfortunate image over the years – emphasised by almost every press report and slanted so that we appear to be jam-making fuddy-duddys and of the pearl and cardie-wearing, tory-voting brigade to boot. Even my Aunt thought this (when she moved from a town in Essex to our Cornish village she expressed this view – despite the fact that I, my mum and another Aunt belonged – none of whom fitted that description in any way whatsoever – except the jam-making part).
‘Jam and Jerusalem’, the papers say, in a disparaging way. Well, yes our rousing ‘song’ is Jerusalem, by William Blake, and I find the ‘bring me my bow of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire,’ quite stirring though we do not sing it at our usual meetings nowadays. And as for Jam making – that was effortful war work. What other war work is disparaged?
In nearly a hundred years of being an organisation, the WI has made a huge difference. Though started to help rural women, for education and support, it has taken up the cause in many aspects of life. Some of these then grew into themselves as separate organisations, which still acknowledge their links to their inspiration and formation. Like the Keep Britain Tidy group… an idea and movement initiated by the WI in 1954 and, though now a national organisation, often the people on the ground in villages doing the organisation will still be from the local WI.
Each year we have a resolution and our National arm campaigns on these resolutions. Not just on that year’s one but on any that we have passed over time. They have our mandate; that is the mandate of 212,000 women, to campaign on these issues. Over the past five years these have included ‘No-more violence against women’ ‘SOS Honeybees’ ‘The need for more Midwives’ ‘Care not Custody – for people with mental health issues’ and ‘Time to Talk – about Organ Donation’. It educates, it campaigns and is listened to.
Yet still the WI is disparaged, though now we are also the ‘calendar girls’ (a doubtful accolade) where some potential members are as wary of being asked to strip off… as much as to run a cake stall (or should that be buns?)
So, when one of our members on the UnOfficial WI FB page, a page for WI members to chat and share (not the Official WI FB page which is more for National WI matters) suggested we each took a photo of ourselves holding a sign with the words I AM WI written on it – I thought this a great idea – for, though you know I like making Jam (in my microwave), I also think I am a typical (but NOT-STEREOTYPICAL) WI member! Active in my own life and in the community, busy and enjoying life to the full.
All of which explains the photo at the top of this blog
Do you belong to the WI?
If not, what is the image you have of the WI
Look out for the hashtag #iamwi