May 2011 workshops report for funders (ESRC)

The Project
The Women, Our Environment and Justice project seeks to explore environmental justice from the perspective of women in marginalised communities.

Our broad aim for the project is to work with collaborators to deliver workshops using popular education theory and methodology, with communities of women of colour and communities affected by environmental injustice to critically engage with the causes of their struggles and identify their desires in relation to them. If action is desired, then it includes tools to build skills to take it. This is because we understand that lasting social change must come from within communities and want to support women to feel empowered and able to nurture politically active communities.

Glasgow series, collaborating with AMINA, Muslim Women’s Resource Centre

The Glasgow workshop series were organised in collaboration with AMINA, the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre and took place in two communities: the Women’s Friendship Group in Govanhill, and the International Women’s Group in Sighthill.

Govanhill is in the south of the city and was featured in Scottish mainstream media during the second half of 2010 for its declining environmental standards and the growing poverty of its 8,500 inhabitants, 30% of whom are classed as black and minority ethnicity. Sighthill in north Glasgow is the poorest constituency in Scotland. Since April 2000, its existing economic-related social issues, such as gangs and substance dependence, have been exacerbated by the large-scale housing of asylum seekers in high-rise flats, with frequent reports of racial violence.

We have been in contact with AMINA through the ‘Black Gold Injustice’ project run in collaboration between So We Stand and the African and Caribbean Network. However, these workshops were our first contact with these particular groups.

The workshops
Both workshops were 3 hours long and included lunch, travel expenses and a crèche. We used popular education techniques to bring out knowledge, experience and understanding from the participants about: their personal histories and journeys from other parts of the world to Glasgow; their understanding of the meaning of environment, justice and women and connections between them; ideas of global environmental injustice and how that connected to their own experience (Govanhill); and how participants felt about their environments, what they wanted to change about them, and how able they felt in actively engaging in changes they wanted to see (Sighthill).

We endeavoured to make the workshops as accessible as possible. To do this the collaborators, who were people who already worked in/were from the communities we were working with, coordinated the venue, arranged the workshop time and organised the crèche. Thus the workshop format, venue, time was familiar to the participants making it a safe and convenient place to meet in. We also offered travel expenses. In both Govanhill and Sighthill there were 10 participants (20 in total).

Facilitators’ comments
Our overarching feelings were of excitement that the participatory methods used seemed to work very well. Both groups were initially shy but through encouragement got involved in the discussions and seemed to be very engaged. Some of the comments and sharing participants brought forward were very interesting, and the links between environment, justice and women were explored in deep and interesting ways.

Ideas brought up in the workshops included: differentiations of power in the home, in government, in society (both); links between wealth and power (“As long as there is capitalism there can be no real justice” – Govanhill); links between wealth/power and local/global environments (both); links between power in government vs power in the home and power to change conditions of existence (Sighthill); role of community cohesion in bringing about change (Govanhill).

We felt that it was a good sign that the only negative feedback was that they wanted to go deeper into the topic through having more discussions and wanting more practical skills to be able to work on local issues of environment justice. We are organising follow up workshops in June 2011 in which we will share some practical skills like how to plan a campaign, how local councils work, how to talk to MPs, and other skills.
In the Sighthill workshop we found that language more of a barrier as some participants did not speak good English. Other participants translated for them but we felt this was not fully adequate as participants wanted to participate as well as translate and could not always do both. For future workshops we will check with collaborators for any existing needs, hire a translator if necessary, and use exercises that communicate using non-verbal skills so that everyone can participate.

Overall we feel that we met our aim, and that this is only the beginning of engagement with these communities. We look forward to doing more workshops, providing a nourishing environment for women to explore and realise action on issues of environmental justice.