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Women’s Fest 2006: The Debacle…

Caroline Prendergast



A lot of research and planning went into this years women’s fest. I started organising in 2005 and the women’s group has been consistently investing their time and energy into making this celebration go off with a bang. After extensive consultation with the community we identified the three main hurdles that often undermine women’s events; under-funding, under resourcing, and under-staffing. Determined not to let our work be under-valued in the aforementioned ways we attempted to tackle the problems before they occurred. The VUWSA Women’s group have been leaders in women’s events planning this year: despite that we have suffered some disastrous setbacks. At the September NZUSA conference I co-facilitated a workshop on this very topic: What events can you plan for women and what can go wrong! I decided to write this weeks column on women’s event planning because of the positive feedback from the conference and because this week is our women’s festival, a festival which we have had to struggle to keep alive despite our good efforts.
Problem One: Under funding.
For the first time in many years a women’s Rep Group budget was presented to the VUWSA exec. It was well researched and presented very early in the year. This meant the group had their own money and did not have to rely only on the WRO for their money. The budget approved just over $24,000 almost six times larger than any budget ever given to the VUWSA group and the largest ever dedicated to a women’s group in New Zealand. This was a huge achievement for us and meant we could expand the group and reach more people and we also overcame the first hurdle faced by women’s events.

Problem Two: Under-resourcing.
Although we had more money than we had ever expected, we also had more events and more campaigns than ever before and we were spread rather thin. We identified that the best way to tackle this issue was to outsource it. We worked the community pretty tough and managed to come up with heaps of volunteers, prizes, free food, resource kits, and thousands of dollars of sponsorship and prizes. Making sure we had the resources to realise our aspirations required a huge amount of effort – on the flipside it saved us heaps too.

Problem Three: Under-staffing
Anyone who has ever planned an event or a campaign will know it takes a huge amount of time, energy, and commitment, and no matter how dedicated your volunteers are it’s often impossible to have every base covered by someone who knows what they’re doing. We started early. Several months ago Heather (the women’s coordinator) and I successfully lobbied the VUWSA exec for an extra staff member during the week of women’s fest. The job description for this staff member was “to maximise the huge investment of student money in Women’s fest by aiding the promotion of its various events, and working with the WRO and women’s coordinator to ensure the scheduled events are high quality and accountable”. Unfortunately 3 months later VUWSA reneged on the agreement and pulled the funding on that too.
I am sure you can agree we attempted to fool-proof, accident-proof, and disasterproof our women’s week, we identified the risks and created a comprehensive risk management plan. Unfortunately we still managed to be running on an under-funded, under-resourced, under staffed reduced timetable. We had to learn that it doesn’t matter how many financial plans you write, conformation emails you receive, bases you cover, sponsorship deals and volunteers you recruit the biggest issue women’s groups will ever face is lack of respect. Four weeks ago today $11,000 (approx) of our budget was revoked for the simple reason: people do not know how to take women’s issues seriously. The group had no idea our budget was up for review until it was gone. Our events are being judged on profit margins and sales figures, not the community awareness we have raised, or the lives we have changed.
The purpose of this column is to share the hardest lesson we have learned during this process with the women of this campus, the women who will one day face the same obstacles: Judge yourself by your own standards, no one can know how much you have achieved or how far you have come, except you.
On that note we hope to see you all at our events (detailed on the opposite page) and look forward to your support. Tickets to the Thursdays In Black Concert are only $8 for students, so do come along and help us prove that women orientated community initiatives can be financially viable and change the world at the same time.