History of WI Campaigns

A group of WI members standing outside holding signs with different WI resolutions written on them

The very first WI meeting in the UK took place on 16 September 1915. More than a century later, the world has changed in many ways, but the WI has been a constant throughout.

From a humble start in a small North Wales village to boosting food supplies during both World Wars and groundbreaking campaigns on equal pay and AIDS awareness - the NFWI has a longstanding history of undertaking educational work and campaigning on a diverse range of issues. It was established to ensure that women are able to take an effective part in their community, to learn together, widen their horizons, improve and develop the quality of their lives and those of their communities and together influence local, national and international affairs on issues that matter to members.

100 Years of Campaigning

A black and white picture of a WI member speaking at the AM

Over the last 100 years, our members have campaigned on an incredible range of issues, increasing public awareness and bringing about real change. 2015 provided an opportunity to reflect on the WI’s first one hundred years, resulting in our Centenary report which is designed to give an insight into the WI’s historic legacy and impact on women, family life, communities and the nation. It also offers a WI view on some of the key challenges women and their families are facing today. Discover some of our campaign highlights in the timeline and video below.

  1. Housing

    The very first WI resolution was passed in 1918 at the NFWI’s second Annual Meeting and called for a ‘sufficient supply of convenient and sanitary houses, being of vital importance to women in the country’.

  2. Women on jury service

    The WI has always strived to ensure women play a full role in public life. This has included emphasising the importance of women jurors and magistrates in 1921.

  3. Women Police

    In 1922 and 1924, two resolutions were passed calling for an increase in women police.

  4. Equal pay for equal work

    In 1943, Bures WI in Suffolk West Federation proposed a resolution calling for ‘equal pay for equal work’. This campaign followed a debate on equality that had been rising during the years of WWII.

  5. Keep Britain Tidy

    With its roots in rural life, protection of the countryside has always been important to the WI and it was a resolution in 1954 that brought about one of the WI’s most significant initiatives.

    This resolution called for a campaign to ‘preserve the countryside against desecration by litter,’ and subsequently led to the formation of the Keep Britain Tidy group.

  6. Smoking in public places

    In 1964, just ten years after researchers in the UK had established a link between smoking and lung cancer, the WI passed a resolution which called for measures ‘to restrict the amount of smoking in public places,’ including the amount of smoking broadcast on television.

  7. Cervical Screening

    In 1964, the WI called on ‘Her Majesty’s Government and the Regional Hospital Boards to treat as a matter of urgency the provision of comprehensive facilities for a routine smear test for cervical cancer’.

    The WI began educating its members about screening facilities and encouraged women to ask for the test which was extremely under-utilised at the time.

  8. Plastic Pollution

    While laws are beginning to come into force to ban various single-use plastics, the WI has been raising awareness around the impact of plastic on the environment since the 1960s and 1970s.

    In 1971, the Women's Institutes proposed a resolution calling for research ‘into the production of disintegrating plastic packaging materials’ due to the increasing danger to livestock, other animals and the spoiling of beaches and the countryside.

  9. HIV and AIDS awareness

    The NFWI was one of the first organisations to talk about HIV and AIDS following its 1986 resolution ‘to inform the general public of the true facts concerning the disease AIDS’ and used its unrivalled network of local organisations to educate the public and get people talking about the issue.

  10. Fairtrade Foundation

    The WI was one of the several organisations who founded the Fairtrade Foundation in 1992. Members had been campaigning throughout the 1970s and 1980s for global food security and agricultural self-sufficiency in developing countries.

  11. Care Not Custody

    In June 2008, the WI passed a resolution calling for an end to the inappropriate detention of people with mental health problems. In partnership with the Prison Reform Trust, the Care not Custody campaign aimed to bring an end to the use of prison as a ‘default option’ for people with mental health needs or learning disabilities.

  12. More Midwives

    Recognising the chronic shortages of midwives, in 2012 the WI called on the Government to ‘increase investment in the training, employment and retention of midwives in England and Wales to ensure services are adequately resourced and are able to deliver a high standard of care.’

Click here to read our Centenary report marking 100 years of the WI.