Women’s voices in community planning

Woman with loudspeaker‘Community Planning is about the structures, processes and behaviours necessary to ensure that organisations work together and with communities to improve the quality of people’s lives, through more effective, joined up and appropriate delivery of services’

This is the definition used by both the Scottish Executive and Communities Scotland at the beginning of the Community Planning process.  It is, therefore, essentially about the process for improving services to local areas in a ‘joined up’ way.

Equality was supposed to be embedded throughout the process and was legally defined by the Scotland Act rather than UK legislation, giving it a far wider interpretation.  Community Planning was therefore an opportunity for women in  communities to not only Influence how services were delivered but also to ensure an equalities perspective was part of that service delivery.

Women in communities therefore needed to know what was happening, what questions to ask and what support they were entitled to have in order to hold policy makers to account.

Engender ran training courses for women in 3 areas of Scotland, including Glasgow.   Part of the focus of the training was to try to demystify the Community Planning process in order for women to be able to understand and influence that process, in particular the delivery of community services to meet that community’s needs.   We developed some materials/exercises specifically aimed at challenging policy makers and ensuring that women made a difference at community level.   Prior to the training, very few of the women participants had heard of the Community Planning process.   During the training, we were able to highlight opportunities for women to become more involved and it was useful having Community Planning experts’ input.  However, due to the fairly bureaucratic structure and membership of Community Planning Partnerships, it seemed that the whole process was being overseen by the ‘usual suspects’ ie officials, Councillors etc.

Clearly, the key organisation for ensuring Community Planning succeeds, is the local authority and yet local authorities in general are perceived as being remote from their ‘communities’.  One of the assumptions made in the development stage of Community Planning was that ‘communities’ are aware of how local authorities and other public bodies work.  In reality, people have very little understanding of how policy/decision makers operate.  Yet, the decisions that they make affect the whole community.

If women are to play their part in working towards a more inclusive community, through the Community Planning process, then they need to have the resources available for them to understand the structures that control that process.  Women are usually fairly active in organisations within their own communities and are often heading up lone parents families.  They therefore have little time to participate in ‘another structure’ unless they can influence that structure.

Women are also not homogenous.  Engender has been working with some Gypsy/Traveller women over the past few months, trying to engage with them and encourage them to be more active/vocal in relation to services provided by local authorities and other agencies.  However, as they are an under-represented group, they are even more marginalized in relation to the whole Community Planning process.  If the Community Planning process is to be successful in that all ‘communities’ are actively engaged in relation to service delivery, then some thought and resources have to go into ensuring that equality and diversity are embedded in that process.

Community Planning as a process for involvement and influence by the whole community has now been around for a reasonable length of time and yet, it is still seen as a ‘mystery’ to lots of women within their own community.

Jeanette Timmins,
Engender, 26 Albany St, Edinburgh EH1 3QH
Tel: 0131 558 9596 info@engender.org.uk

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