Why do we need place-based systems change to tackle gendered poverty?

Why do we need place-based systems change to tackle gendered poverty?
Renaisi is the learning partner for Smallwood’s Women’s Sector Resilience Fund (WSRF) – a programme that supports networks led by and for women to make change to the systems that cause gendered poverty in their area.

We have been working with three place-based women’s networks aiming to tackle gendered poverty in Birmingham, Wythenshawe and Coventry. These networks have collectively identified three unique reasons why place-based systems change is needed to deliver significant and lasting change for women in poverty.

From our journey of implementing the place-based system change model for the past few years, here are three reasons why we think place-based systems change is needed to tackle gendered poverty.

Reason 1: There are structures and attitudes underpinning gendered poverty that need to change.
Systems change is needed because the services, policies and laws that women in poverty encounter are underpinned by attitudes and structures that include racism, ableism and sexism.

These problems persist within each of the three places. Such attitudes are revealed when individual women are blamed for their circumstances – their immigration status, lack of financial independence and experiences of abuse – rather than service providers recognising their circumstances being driven by systemic injustices. The most marginalised women are therefore less able to access the support they need, trapping them in cycles of poverty and abuse. Challenging these harmful attitudes in each place will be a critical part of supporting each local system to work better for the women they support.

Each network revealed there is a lack of importance placed on the need to centre gendered experiences in service delivery and policymaking. For example, it’s rarely recognised that the experiences of women with special educational needs and disabilities are different to that of men, and therefore the services they require should be delivered differently. The networks
felt that the public sector doesn’t allocate sufficient resources to making sure services are sensitive to the gendered experiences of women.

The networks told us that that systems need to change at a local level before tackling larger power structures. Whilst the complex issues underpinning gendered poverty are the same nationwide, they do have variances linked with different places and discussions need to be informed by women experiencing these challenges. This approach brings together local decision-makers of each place and allows women to understand then tackle these unique challenges. This can then progress toward a regional and eventually national level with information travelling from women with lived experience through the different hierarchies of the system right up to policy makers.

What needs to change?
To change this at a local level the networks hope to see women with lived experience of poverty who access public services involved in shaping the design of these services, to ensure they respond to women’s needs. They also hope to see local authorities implement gender impact assessments when designing statutory service provision and commit to single-gender services where needed to ensure women’s needs are met. 

Reason 2: Collaboration and network building is needed to understand systems that uphold gendered poverty
Delivering holistic services requires organisations and staff to understand the diverse range of needs and experiences that women have using their services. Members from each network hold their own specialism that, when partnered with one another, create a deeper understanding of how to support diverse experiences of individual women. Relationship building is critical to ensure that network development enables services to be truly women-led. To create a relational approach, time is needed both to enable staff within different network members to build relationships with each other and for women accessing their services to hold a relationship with a trusted staff member. 

Frontline services for those at crisis point (what the networks termed “ongoing firefighting”) can build an understanding of deeply entrenched issues that women in poverty face and the systems that need to change. Working together and sharing insights across services build a clearer picture of how those issues intersect and how policies affect women’s reality. By collecting evidence around the need for systemic change and speaking with a collective voice, networks believe it will highlight the gendered impact of policies.

Reason 3: A focus on place allows organisations to test and model new ways of working 
With a deep knowledge of the community they’re based in, place-based organisations can deliver appropriate services to women in poverty. Focusing on the experiences that women have in a particular place supports network members and staff to understand intersectionality and recognise common experiences.

The networks felt that taking a place-based approach positively ‘forced’ them to build relationships across the other services working in a place, which has enabled collaborative working. This responds to a critical gap in service provision where funding cuts have driven competition across delivery organisations and led many to deliver in silos, at the expense of those service users that might need to access other services alongside their own.

The networks felt that connection to place can also be a powerful way for organisations to develop stronger relationships both with and across the women they work with. The identity that some feel around their place can be mobilising and uniting for women in areas that have a common experience of gendered poverty and its surrounding issues.

You can read more comprehensively about the learning we have gathered about place-based system change through our learning partner Renaisi. The learning report from year 1 is available on our website here.

Listen to our podcast about tackling gendered poverty locally with Kezia Jackson-Harman from Renaisi and Faye Pettitt from Coventry Women’s Partnership here.

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