What it's like to be a woman in Leeds

“A city better for women is a city better for everyone.”

By Emma Ryan
Saturday, 7th March 2020, 6:00 am

That is the message from Women’sLivesLeeds (WLL), a collective network of 11 women’s and girls’ groups in the city that have come together to make a series of small changes which, when put together, could make a big difference.

Leeds has high hopes of becoming the UK’s first Women Friendly City and wants to pave the way for other parts of the country to follow suit. Ahead of International Women’s Day, Emma Ryan speaks to some of the women making it happen.

Speaking to the YEP as the world marks International Women’s Day this weekend, Emily Turner, WLL co-ordinator, said: “There are no Women Friendly cities currently in the UK and it is a United Nations initiative. There are not that many in Western Europe but lots in Turkey, South America and South Africa. We are coming from a completely different starting point than these other cities.

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Members of Leeds Girls Can in the runderwear they wore to take part in the Leeds 10k as a way of promoting body confidence.

“If we do get to the stage where we have a charter, we are hoping that other cities in the UK will take that on board.”

Comic Relief

Comic Relief granted funding to the city to move forward with being a Women Friendly City until October 2023.

Over the last few months, 11 groups, with the girls and women they work with, have put forward their ideas and suggestions about what would make Leeds a better place for women.

Leeds Girls Can stage a flashmob dance at Leeds Corn Exchange.

They revolve around five themes at present such as safety at night, health and well-being, having a voice and influence, equality in the workplace and education.

Focus groups and meetings and events, such as International Women’s Day on Sunday, are getting the voices of the city’s girls and women heard. The second part is to start making the changes.

Ms Turner said: “We are still in the very early stages, I have only been in post since January and what’s lovely about it is that all the ideas are coming from the hubs. We have got funding for a movement rather than a project so the idea is that it will keep moving forward when we are no longer doing it and that it will still be a thing.”

Schemes

Keanna Leader from Getaway Girls in Harehills.

Ideas that are currently being worked on are plans to create menopause cafes and a women friendly bar network in the city. That would involve stickers in premises windows to signify a woman friendly bar where, for example, there are sanitary products available, women can use the toilet without having to buy a drink or the Ask Angela scheme is in place.

WLL also wants to appoint women ambassadors who are good female role models and the leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, is signed up.

Ms Turner added: “We are really forward thinking in Leeds in terms of diversity generally and we want to raise confidence of women and girls and show them strong, powerful women in the city. The Lord Mayor of Leeds (Coun Eileen Taylor) and the council leader are women and if you go really far back to Leonara Cohen and the Suffragette movement there are great role models from history to the current.”

International Women's Day events

Throughout this weekend there are several events to mark International Women’s Day.

On Sunday, the Harehills-based Getaway Girls group is re-launching its Vocal Girls project.

At Carriageworks Theatre, from 11am to 2pm, there will be a series of performances, speakers, workshops and activities. The idea behind it is to get women thinking about issues they care about in the city and how they can make a change.

Getaway Girls works with girls and young women aged 11 – 25 to build up confidence, develop new skills and take positive risks. When she was 14, Kianna Leader became involved with the group and now at the age of 21, with a degree in politics, she has become an ambassador.

She told the YEP: “Within Leeds there are a lot of different opportunities to get involved in. Not just the usual clubs but niche things for whatever your passion is.

“But there is a lack of funding. A lot of these projects only last for three weeks and after that there is nothing and you are back to finding something else to get involved in. There are not a lot of long term projects but I have been involved with Getaway Girls since I was 14.”

Over at Leeds Girls Can (part of the This Girl Can ideology) they are preparing to put their best foot forward later today at the Potternewton Park Run.

Louise Walker is a development officer for Active Leeds where the onus is to get women to try activities that are out of their comfort zone or where there might be barriers that prevent them from trying things.

On Thursday a group of girls from Mount St Mary’s High School went ice-skating at Planet Ice and previous activities have included running Leeds 10k in Runderwear to promote body confidence and a flashmob dance at Leeds Corn Exchange.

She said: “We want to bring them to things they would not have the opportunity to do and to try things. Getting active does not have to be a stress, you don’t need expensive kit, it can be fun. We are trying to say even if you run for 30 minutes and walk for 20 minutes, if you don’t do it you will feel worse than if you do. It is hard to get yourself into that place.

“We have a lot of young girls that can’t come to us because they have to pick up and look after younger siblings so we are trying to set up things that includes the siblings or something for them that runs alongside.

“We are hoping to do something about menopause and have changed our age remit to be 20 to 60 years-old. We need to change things from the bottom up and in five to ten years we will be saying something different.”