Martin Thomas: Equality issues go beyond gender

09 Jan 2017 In-depth

Martin Thomas, chair of Women for Women International (UK), says men must be involved in gender equality issues.

Martin Thomas, the next chair of the Charity Commission

In October 2016 I was appointed chair of Women for Women International (UK). As a man, I may not be the obvious choice, but being a man in a senior position of a women’s rights organisation is an important signal that men are integral to progressing gender equality anywhere in the world – be it here in London, or in the communities in which Women for Women International operates.

Women for Women International proactively works with men through our Men’s Engagement Programme, working with male religious and community leaders in countries like Afghanistan, DRC and Nigeria, and we also have a strong and committed base of male supporters here in the UK who fundraise and sponsor women through the 12-month holistic programme. Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue – it affects us all – and, when we invest in women, entire families and communities benefit.

I am proud to say I was chosen by the board and directors of the charity because they thought I was the right person for the job, in true egalitarian style. But as you would expect I am surrounded by brilliant, powerful women on the board and in the leadership team; in fact I am heavily outnumbered.

As a co-founder of BACIT, the innovative investment company that donates 1 per cent of its net asset value each year to charities, and chair of the BACIT Foundation, I first got to know Women for Women International (UK) as a funder and was keen to support the charity. As our patron Dame Helen Mirren has said: “With the rise of brutal armed conflicts and extremism we are currently seeing unprecedented levels of violence against women, which means there has never been a greater need for the work of Women for Women International to support women survivors. Women for Women International has demonstrated over the past 20 years that when given the tools, resources and knowledge to access livelihoods and protect their rights, women can transform their families, communities – and ultimately help build more stable nations.”

In the three years that I have known the organisation, I have been impressed by the level of governance, financial reporting, financial accounting and prudent economising of resources shown by the charity. I have served as trustee for over ten charities to date, and I am proud to bring my governance and professional experience to Women for Women International (UK).

For any charity, the board has a crucial role and duty to fulfil – encompassing strategy, oversight, and accountability. Above all, it is our responsibility to ensure that all decisions are taken with the charity’s interests as paramount. We are bound to act collectively to ensure proper management and administration of the charity, to best advance our vision and mission. Women for Women International (UK) has a committed and well-connected trustee board.

I believe it is important to run any charitable organisation with the same level of commitment and ambition as you would a business, and this is something that Brita Fernandez Schmidt, the executive director of Women for Women International (UK), admirably achieves. It is partly this professional approach that attracted me to Women for Women International (UK), and how I see my skills and experience being most usefully applied going forward.

Martin Thomas is chair of Women for Women International (UK) 

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