Menu

The WI at 100 report unveils members’ views on Britain’s biggest issues

  • 70% disagree that women are equal to men
  • 59% agree that women are penalised in the workplace for having children
  • 84% say it is difficult to balance family responsibilities with work
  • 83% agree world leaders must urgently agree a deal to tackle climate change
  • 78% agree that there are not enough positive role models for girls

The National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) has unveiled a report that delves into the views and opinions of its current members, and highlights some of the achievements from its 100-year history. The WI at 100 report was devised to mark the organisation's centenary.

The research, which was presented at a special WI-style meeting at the Houses of Parliament, reports WI members' attitudes around the key areas of home and families, work and society, health and wellbeing, the natural world, and our global society.  The research showed that whilst life has changed significantly for women over the past 100 years, both old and new challenges are faced by WI members.

Members raised concerns about the pressures of modern family life with 84% agreeing that it is difficult for women to balance family responsibilities with work. Almost four in five members (79%) said they believed that staying home to raise children is not valued in today's society, despite 95% saying women are still expected to be the primary care giver.

Home skills, a traditional preserve of the WI, remains an area of importance for members, with 88% of respondents saying they believe that traditional domestic skills like being able to cook a meal from scratch are being lost, despite them being important for healthy and sustainable living.

The research suggests that despite campaigning for equal pay as early as 1929, 70% of WI members do not think that women are yet equal to men, and 82% of members think that women and men are still judged to different standards. When asked about women in the workplace, 59% of members said they believed that women were penalised for having children and 59% disagreed that women have the same opportunities as men. The research also shows a concern for future generations, with 78% of members saying there are not enough positive female role models for girls.

When looking at global and environmental issues a large majority (83%) called for world leaders to agree a deal to tackle climate change and 58% said they were concerned at the challenges that future generations would face because of climate change. Looking to our global society the report suggests members feel a responsibility to stand up for the rights of women and girls overseas, with 81% of members saying they said they believe that issues facing women in the developing world will be overlooked if women in wealthier countries don't stand up for them. Almost three in five members (59%) said that access to education was the biggest challenge facing women in developing countries.

The report also highlights the important and sometimes surprising achievements of the WI including campaigning to raise the age of consent in 1922 and 1926, calling for fathers to take responsibility for children born outside wedlock in 1920 and supporting a change in the legal definition of rape in 1975. In more recent years, the WI has campaigned for more midwives to help improve maternal health and has lobbied against cuts to Legal Aid.

The report paints an interesting picture on the visibility of women in society despite the WI's pioneering history of campaigning and instigating change and incredible involvement in their communities (94% volunteered in the last 12 months), 69% of members said they feel they have not very much or no influence on matters of a national level. 

The report does show, however, that members recognised that the world has improved vastly for women over the last century with 95% saying they believe that women today have more choices than ever.

Marylyn Haines Evans, Vice Chair of the NFWI and Chair of Public Affairs, said: "This report shows that despite the significant societal, technological and cultural changes of the last 100 years, women are still demanding greater equality and fighting for the issues that are important to them and their families.

"For the past 100 years the WI has existed to help give women a voice on the issues that matter, from domestic violence to organ donation to better maternal care.

"Moving into our next century it is crucial for us to work with all our members to preserve traditional skills and learn new ones and to empower all our members to campaign for change in the areas that they see as important."

The research was launched at the Women as Agents of Change event, the first-ever WI meeting to be held at the Houses of Parliament.

ENDS

For further information please contact ali@umpf.co.uk or pip@umpf.co.uk in the NFWI's Centenary Press Office on 0800 4 10 20 10. The full report is available under embargo on request.

The WI at 100 years: a century of inspiring women  

The NFWI commissioned BritainThinks to provide support with the development and delivery of a quantitative survey.  Fieldwork took place between 9th April and 8th June 2015. In total 5,450 members completed the survey, representing approximately 2.6% of the NFWI's membership.  Of these, 3,406 completed it online, and 2,044 returned postal questionnaires. The report findings are accurate to within +/- 1.31% at the 95% confidence interval.  Data have not been weighted.  In addition four focus groups took place during July and August 2015.

The National Federation of Women's Institutes

The NFWI is the largest voluntary women's organisation in the UK with more than 212,000 members in over 6,600 WIs.  It plays a unique role in enabling women to develop new skills, giving them opportunities to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities, and provides wide-ranging activities for members to get involved in. For further information on the NFWI please visit www.theWI.org.uk