We interviewed people in our networks and communities to find out about their experiences of the cost of living crisis. We were also interviewed ourselves as part of the project.
The questions we asked were finalised by a subgroup of the Panel and included the changes women and girls were noticing since the cost of living crisis had started and what was helping.
Why the Peer Research project was important
It was really important to make room to tell more stories, not just those of the Panel members. It was a simple, straightforward way for us to round out the cost of living topic and it would work well for other topics that the Panel will discuss in the future.
It was interesting that there were common themes, even though we spoke to people with vastly different life experiences. One of the main themes was easy access to information and a one stop shop approach to getting all the information you needed.
What we learned
One of the main things we learned was that one size does not fit all. Women and girls are not one big group that is all the same, there are lots of things that make us different from each other. These are things like whether we’re parents, our race, our faith, whether we do paid work, our caring responsibilities and whether we have disabilities or long term health conditions.
It doesn’t work if you try to fit a person into a box; help has to be designed for each person. The women and non-binary people we spoke to wanted to be asked what would help them, not just assumptions made about the best solutions.
We all learned new skills by being involved in the project, too. Some of us had never done an interview before, some learned new IT skills when we recorded our conversations and others read out quotes from real people at our presentation to the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls. Some of us gained a new respect for women and how they just keep going, regardless of what they’re going through. We’re keen that women are not viewed as victims
The real voices we heard were very powerful and led to deep, human connections. They brought the findings from the research to life and showed just how much some people are struggling through the cost of living crisis. It helped us see that everyone’s experiences are valid, including those who have only had to make minor changes to cope with the rise in costs.
Things that would help
Although there were common themes, there were differences in what women thought would help. Some said that direct cash payments would have the biggest impact, whereas others didn’t want to feel that they were relying on handouts. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t always work.
Interviewees came up with some easy, cheap and sometimes free suggestions that could help communities in the cost of living crisis. These included community food dinners, clothes swaps, repair cafes, and school uniform schemes. These could all take place in a warm space with food available so that people felt they weren’t just receiving something for free. They could contribute, too.
We learned a lot about how the cost of living crisis is affecting different women across Scotland but there were some things we would have liked to explore more. We would want to know more about women who weren’t able to work because of childcare costs, as well as women taking on more work because of the cost of living.
We would also want to find out more about the intersectionality we talked about. There are layers of barriers for some groups of people that make the cost of living crisis even harder. We would want to know more about the stigma around asking for help in some minority communities and the discrimination ethnic minority women can experience when applying for jobs because of their names.
There are other situations we’d like to know more about, such as the extra costs for some women, like unpaid carers, those with disabilities and women living in more rural areas. There are also many women who don’t access support for a variety of reasons, whether that’s due to transport issues, worries about personal safety or not leaving their homes because of abuse or cultural expectations.
We have been using the ladder of participation to think about how the Empowering Women Panel can influence the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG) and the Scottish Government.
What we are learning about participation
Participation has to be active; passive participation isn’t participation at all. By gathering everyone’s lived experience, we have the best chance of effecting change within the Scottish Government.
We are a diverse group of women and non-binary people. We all have our own unique story to tell and everyone’s experiences are valid. We’re creating a space for everyone to contribute in whatever way people feel most comfortable.
Some of us are more confident speaking in front of a group, while others prefer time to reflect and feed back in a different way.
We spoke at the beginning of the project about the barriers we experience in different parts of our lives when it comes to participation.
These included things like not knowing where to go for information, such as legal aid entitlement, visa information and gender-based violence support. It really takes its toll as it can be exhausting and frustrating and can affect both physical and mental health.
By hearing each other’s stories, we’re learning about barriers we might never have experienced ourselves and can use that knowledge elsewhere in our lives. We’ve met people we wouldn’t have met without being part of the Panel and learned about life outside our bubble.
We all want our voices to be heard through this project but it’s important for us to know that it will actually make a difference.
As part of establishing an identity for the Panel, we decided to rebrand as the Empowering Women Panel and we worked with a designer on a suite of logos which represent who we are and what we’re about.
Why the Partnership Agreement with the NACWG is important
We were keen to lay out how we would like to work with the NACWG so that our lived experience expertise would be valued.
As we learn more about how government works and the NACWG’s influence, we are realising how we can feed into that and make a real difference to the lives of women and girls in Scotland.
It’s taking time to build relationships with the NACWG and at the beginning it felt like they were mysterious unknown people. We know that, in theory, we are all on an equal footing but we’re not quite there yet. This will improve as we spend more time together. There is learning to be done on all sides so that we all know what each other is working on. It’s quite early doors for the project and more time will help us complete our mission.
What’s important about the Empowering Women Panel
By listening to ordinary women and non-binary people, the NACWG and Scottish Government will hear about life for everyday people living in Scotland today. We’re not afraid of speaking truth to power.
The Panel is full of talent and it’s up to us to harness it and present it to decision makers and those closer to power. It’s up to us to give other people a voice, such as those in our families and communities. Panel members have so many skills that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
We are learning so much from each other, like new ways of thinking about things and we’re having the chance to share personal experiences that might help someone else.
We are giving context to what the NACWG does on a deeper and more diverse level. The NACWG is made up of people who already have a level of prestige and the Panel broadens the experiences that the Advisory Council can draw on.
We are learning a lot by being part of the Panel: about ourselves, each other and about power and participation. It’s been a steep learning curve for some and everyone feels like they have grown by being part of the Panel.
Some of us have been surprised by how much we’ve learned about different topics, like intersectionality and how government works. We’ve been watching and reading the news through a new lens and sharing our thoughts with each other when we come across interesting articles, conferences and events.
We were all nervous at the beginning that we didn’t have anything to contribute or that our voices wouldn’t be heard. But we’re realising that together we have power. As our tag line says, from participation comes empowerment.
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