Our manifesto lays out what we think needs to change in the way we tackle drug & alcohol addiction. But access to treatment, health and social services in the UK is far from equal. It’s one of the reasons we developed Feminism for Change 

Aside from the low number of women-only groups run by treatment services, those that are on offer tend to focus solely on substance misuse, rather than the structural barriers that women in particular face when engaging with such services in the first place.  

These barriers include: 

  • caring responsibilities
  • fear or reprisal from social services
  • cultural stigma and shame around mental health
  • drug & alcohol use and gender expectations
  • increased vulnerability and complex needs of the huge number of women with histories of substance misuse who’ve also experienced domestic, sexual or gender-based violence. 

Our course uses the critical framework of feminism to help women in recovery explore their life experiences in a space that provides an opportunity to learn with and from other women. It’s an idea that goes back to the consciousness-raising groups of 1970s second-wave feminism, in which women met up regularly in groups of no more than twelve to discuss and examine their lives in a way that helped them develop strategies for action rooted in their own experiences. 

“The personal is political” was a phrase made popular at the time - said to have been coined by British African-Caribbean feminist activist (and co-founder of the Notting Hill Carnival), Claudia Jones. Feminism for Change begins with a session on 'Herstory' - a brief history of British feminism - and explores themes such as shame & guilt, power & control, co-dependency & relationships, sex & consent, so it’s not surprising that conversations in the group repeatedly turn to some of the structural barriers mentioned above. 

The latest group decided to turn their attention in the final session to the political structures and mechanisms that act to reinforce or help overcome these barriers. They captured these in a 'Womanifesto', outlining the measures they identified as needing to be in place for women to gain access to adequate and effective support. This goes beyond a 'wish-list' for treatment providers and local authorities – all too often asked for in various feedback and “service-user involvement” frameworks, but seldom acted upon (in part due to ever-present funding constraints). Instead, they identified a range of material conditions that need addressing in order for the needs of women to be genuinely addressed in society: family services; childcare provision; access to welfare, a minimum income or living wage; sex education in schools; youth-clubs and services for teens and young people; community spaces….The group talked about the culture of “toxic masculinity that has an impact on the men in their lives, the need for role models, and the damaging effects for people of every gender, race, age and ability of living in a society so obsessed with competition and wealth as opposed to wellbeing and happiness. 

All of our courses cover aspects of psychological theory that take into account that all of us in our public, private, working and emotional lives support and interact with each other in relationships that themselves are shaped by part wider social structures. By examining our lives and experiences in this wider context, we can reshape and re-mould ourselves and the patterns we’ve developed or come to rely upon for living in the world. This isn’t always a comfortable process. One reason group work is so important and effective is the strength people are able to draw from each other, as they try and tap into a source of their own. 

The final day included evaluation where the women reflected on their experience of the course and the impact that it had upon them. Here are some of the comments: 

Connecting honestly with women talking about shame has helped me see I’m ok.

I’ve enjoyed developing a new friendship and support group – not feeling alone –being validated in my experiences.

Feminism is something I’m now passionate about, no longer scared of.

The shame session shifted something in me – not to be ashamed and opened up a lot.

I feel that my eyes have been opened to a lot of things…