Meet the Norwich women fighting for their rights after 69 years

Caroline Jarrold, Soroptimist members Rowena Atkinson, Annette Conn and Lord Mayor of Norwich Dr Kevin Maguire.

(From left) Sheriff of Norwich, Caroline Jarrold, members of Soroptimist International Norwich Rowena Atkinson and Annette Conn and Lord Mayor of Norwich Dr Kevin Maguire at the Soroptimist International centenary tree planting event at Elm Hill, Norwich. - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

It was formed a century ago to boost the lives of women and girls through education and better employment opportunities.

And despite many advancements, the Soroptimist International movement which started in Oakland, California, still has work to do to achieve equality for women, according to members of the Norwich branch which started 69 years ago.

Former county councillor Sue Whitaker, 70, who joined the Norwich branch in 2001, said: "It is better for women in the workplace compared to 50 years ago but a lot more needs to done. The glass ceiling is still their and women are still judged."

The original members of the founding Soroptimist group in California in 1921.

The original members of the founding Soroptimist group in California in 1921. - Credit: Soroptimist International Archives

This was partly because she believed women who had to do caring roles out of work were sometimes viewed as not giving 100pc to their jobs and those who did reach high positions within firms were patronised. 

The former councillor was one of 23 Norwich branch members at a ceremonial foxglove tree planting celebration at Elm Hill garden on Thursday, July 15 to mark the centenary of the global movement. 

She added that there should be greater flexibility for women in terms of working hours and young girls should be encouraged into science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.

"Teachers should be inspiring young girls to do whatever they want," Ms Whitaker said.

Soroptimists in the UK working together in Second World War.

Soroptimists in the UK working together in Second World War. - Credit: Soroptimist International Archives

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Another member Annette Conn, 78, from Bracondale, said the Covid lockdown had highlighted the importance of community and the Soroptimist group was vital for boosting friendships as well fundraising for charities including foodbanks.

She added the movement was integral in lobbying for the domestic abuse bill, passed in April this year, as well as raising issues of modern slavery, female genital mutilation and improving women's experiences in prisons.

"We are still relevant and part of a sisterhood. It is made up of strong-minded women," said Miss Conn.

Globally, there are 2,900 Soroptimist clubs with 70,000 members and Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland has 261 clubs with 6,000 members.

As well as working for local communities the Soroptimist organisation has a consultative status with the UN. 

The tree planting was done by Sheriff of Norwich, Caroline Jarrold, and Lord Mayor of Norwich Dr Kevin Maguire.


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