Feminist Activism - Education & Job Opportunities

Women's Activism

In the late 1970s, feminists all over the UK responded to the possibilities created by the new Equality legislation. The time was ripe for attempts to open up areas of work until then seen as exclusively for men, especially in technology. A government report had revealed both a skills shortage and a tiny minority of women in the engineering industry, which tried out a successful scheme for girl technicians. Feminists working in education and local government drew up schemes, broke down resistance, pressured their institutions to adopt the schemes, and then ran them. Postcards like the one on the right, and particularly those produced by Leeds Postcards, were important in inspiring action.

 

In Yorkshire, for example, the Open University's Women in Technology (WIT) was the first feminist-inspired women returnersí scheme for engineers and technologists. Based in the OU's Yorkshire Centre in Leeds, it ran nationwide with government funding from 1979 for 14 years (see the leaflet cover on the right). Similar projects opened in Huddersfield and Bradford in the early 1980s; and in Leeds feminists asked the Education Department and Leeds Womenís Committee to help retrain women garment workers who were particularly hit by the closure of an important factory.

 

The feminists who fought for these schemes knew it was not enough just to provide courses. Women entering or returning to jobs which were mainly occupied by men had needs which must be met. This meant women tutors and support staff, advice and counselling on entry, child-care provision, and free training. Public funding and project autonomy were essential if the spirit of the Equality legislation, especially Positive Action, was to be effective.

 

Such schemes, and the principle of Positive Action came under attack.




 
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