1) Why set up a helpline just for women and girls?
Weirdly, there is a gap. Men and women are different, and the kind of help we need and when we can access it is not the same for men as for women. There are specific helplines for men and boys, for young people, for older people, for the black, asian and ethnic minority communities, for the LGBTQ+ community, for mental health because the needs of specific communities are different. There are fantastic organisations supporting women at risk of domestic violence, women suffering breast cancer, rape crisis. But for many women, the issues we face are more mundane and cover a range of issues (not one specifically).
Expectations on us are also different. Too often we are trying to avoid being seen as victims or need to be seen as in control. Location and timings of existing services may deter women from seeking help. Services running early evenings can be hard to access if you’re cooking for your kids. Services located in some areas may simply be seen as unsafe to visit at night by young women. And often, as the primary carer in a family, women may be reluctant to seek help for, say heavy drinking, if they fear they may lose custody of their children.
We might be in crisis, but not suicidal, not suffering from a mental illness. Most of the time we face a mix of issues, so being able to signpost to other agencies is important. Having an organisation able to support the caller through the whole situation is important as well. And having any additional information available about where next, is similarly crucial.
Polly will be able to signpost to other agencies, covering the kinds of issues women and girls face, and will be able to link women up to national and local women’s services, whether around mental health, physical well being or personal safety.
Calls will be taken for women. While it isn’t always necessary for us to be able to talk to another women, we need a service where that is guaranteed. Calls will be taken by professional women, trained in supporting others by phone, able to access information and other agency details.
2) Why can’t women and girls use existing services?
We are trying to bridge a gap. The help that exists now for women and girls is specific – around domestic and sexual violence, or specific physical conditions or those from a specific geographic area. The helplines that are out there are specific – for men and boys, older people, younger people, those with mental illness or specific illnesses, or even specific lines of work. At CALM we found it hard tying to signpost women and girls to an agency which they felt was relevant to them.
3) Why start something new – can’t you piggyback on an existing service or charity, when there are already so many good causes looking for funding?
There is no helpline for women and girls, and in order to work directly with an existing charity, we'd be asking them to change the nature of their operation - to broaden out their area geographically, or to look beyond mental health and have the databases to refer more broadly, or to narrow their focus to gender. This is hard for any charity to do, and unless their direct charitable purpose is supporting women and girls (and all women and girls, not a particular group defined by area, age, geography, work, medical condition etc), then it is all but impossible.
4) Why now, when everyone is busy meeting COVID-19 challenge?
All of us are under intense pressure right now, and attention is rightly being paid to those charities supporting women experiencing the most acute situations – those facing domestic violence, for example, which is rocketing under lockdown. Those working in the NHS and on frontline and key services.
But the everyday pressures are also intense, challenging, damaging. Who will support all the women and girls not perhaps at immediate risk, but are who are struggling to home educate their children, look after family members, worried about finances and unemployment, relationship breakdown, bereavement, stress and addiction?
Now, more than ever, we need a helpline able to support and signpost women and girls.