The Irene Bruegel Bequest

You are here: Home » The Irene Bruegel Bequest

Irene Bruegel (1945-2008) was a socialist feminist researcher and activist involved in many campaigns to right injustices and empower the most vulnerable in society.

Her research focused on the changing position of women and the intersections of gender, class, ethnicity and immigration status. She was active in the women’s movement, in trade union organising and in campaigning in support of disadvantaged groups, particularly migrants and refugees. She was passionate about adult education and its potential for social transformation.  She combined all these interests with a strong commitment to Palestinian rights for which she campaigned avidly in the last years of her life through Jews for Justice for Palestinians, an organisation she founded and lived to see grow in importance.

Irene left money to support the many causes she had championed. The funds administered by the Feminist Review Trust are specifically earmarked to support both research into issues affecting women’s position in society and campaigns and educational work to improve their situation, both in the UK and abroad. Awards of up to £10,000.00 will be considered.

Obituary: Irene Bruegel

Academic and activist against injustice

  • Sue Himmelweit and Simon Mohun
  • The Guardian, Wednesday 15 October 2008

 

“Life’s not fair” – that was the advice the feminist, economist and socialist Irene Bruegel, who has died aged 62, gave to her children. She deployed her prodigious appetite for life to fight for equality and against injustice, inspiring and cajoling others to do likewise until a chronic liver disorder stopped her. In 2002, she founded Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), today one of the largest and most influential of Jewish voices against the Israeli occupation.
Irene was born in London to German-speaking Jewish social democrat refugee parents. The family returned to Prague while she was still a baby, but her parents had to flee soon after without her, and it took some time before they were reunited in north London. Other refugees often passed through that intensely political household, an experience that fuelled Irene’s drive to fight for the dispossessed.

She attended Henrietta Barnett and South Hampstead high schools before studying economics at Sussex University (1964-67) and taking an MA in urban planning at University College London. Her career spanned education, policy research and local government. Her first job was at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies in Birmingham (1968-70), followed by a year at the Centre for Environmental Studies, Lanchester Polytechnic and the Architectural Association (1971-76), what was then North East London Polytechnic (1976-80), the National Children’s Bureau (1980-83), the Greater London Council in its glory days until it was abolished by the Thatcher government in 1986, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies in Manchester (1986), the London Strategic Policy Unit (1986-87) and the London borough of Ealing (1987-89).

She returned to academia at South Bank University in 1990, where she was promoted to reader in urban policy in 1995 and professor in 2000. Since her retirement in December 2006, she had taught an evening course at Birkbeck College on researching London’s localities, a subject she loved.
Irene was a gifted teacher who expected high standards from students, while understanding their needs and never patronising them if they did not have conventional qualifications or felt unsure about whether they belonged in a university. As a researcher, she never lost sight of the big picture, though her work was meticulously grounded empirically. She made a significant contribution to the understanding of gender and class as a system spanning both the labour market and the family.

She attended Henrietta Barnett and South Hampstead high schools before studying economics at Sussex University (1964-67) and taking an MA in urban planning at University College London. Her career spanned education, policy research and local government. Her first job was at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies in Birmingham (1968-70), followed by a year at the Centre for Environmental Studies, Lanchester Polytechnic and the Architectural Association (1971-76), what was then North East London Polytechnic (1976-80), the National Children’s Bureau (1980-83), the Greater London Council in its glory days until it was abolished by the Thatcher government in 1986, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies in Manchester (1986), the London Strategic Policy Unit (1986-87) and the London borough of Ealing (1987-89).

She returned to academia at South Bank University in 1990, where she was promoted to reader in urban policy in 1995 and professor in 2000. Since her retirement in December 2006, she had taught an evening course at Birkbeck College on researching London’s localities, a subject she loved.

Irene was a gifted teacher who expected high standards from students, while understanding their needs and never patronising them if they did not have conventional qualifications or felt unsure about whether they belonged in a university. As a researcher, she never lost sight of the big picture, though her work was meticulously grounded empirically. She made a significant contribution to the understanding of gender and class as a system spanning both the labour market and the family.
All the while, Irene was politically active – starting with the Young Socialists, the Labour party, and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. She was part of the 1970 Ruskin conference that founded the new women’s movement in the UK, and was active in campaigns for equal pay and abortion rights. She took part in debates about the relationship between feminism and socialism, and scorned the idea that one had to trump the other.

In the 1960s, she joined the International Socialism group (now the Socialist Workers party), which provided the framework for her activism for more than a decade in trade unions, the Conference of Socialist Economists, and other organisations. But Irene never subordinated her free-thinking to demands for political orthodoxy, and, as the space for debate within IS/SWP shrank, she grew increasingly distanced from it. The final straw was its hostility to autonomous women’s organisation, and she left in 1979.
Soon afterwards, she rejoined the Labour party, but quit over the first Gulf war. She supported Women in Black for Justice against War, the European Forum of Socialist-Feminists, and more recently campaigns over adult education, the treatment of refugees and the impact of climate change. Local issues were also important, such as a fight against London Underground’s refusal to renew a local dry cleaner’s lease, and she hurled herself into a campaign to keep her beloved ladies’ pond on Hampstead Heath open and free.
After visiting the West Bank in 2001, she rounded up some dozen like-minded Jewish friends, mostly women, to found the JfJfP to campaign for an end to the Israeli occupation and a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now more than 1,300 strong, the group has been instrumental in shattering the illusion that all Jews unconditionally support the Israeli government.
Irene’s partner, Richard Kuper, was JfJfP’s co-founder. Theirs was a remarkable relationship; each was intellectually autonomous, but they often worked together. They also raised four children in a highly political, intellectually vibrant household that welcomed activists from all over the world with Irene’s wonderful soups and cheesecake.

No matter how much Irene persuaded her friends to do, she would always be doing more – too much, as it turned out. But somehow she managed to reconcile being in a rush with always having time for people, and never made one feel small for not managing the level of activity that she did. She died peacefully, surrounded by her family: Richard, her children Dan and Jo, and stepchildren Martin and David. Her rare gift for friendship transcended political and intellectual differences, and she would have been astonished and delighted at the huge turnout at her funeral.
Irene Bruegel, academic and activist, born November 7 1945; died October 6 2008

 

Literacy and numeracy project in Uganda
£9,790

Thirty-four per cent of women in Kashare, a rural Sub-County in SW Uganda, are illiterate. There is much unrealised potential among women due to limited education and lack of access to land title and assets. The charity Kanaama Interactive Community Support (KICS) supports Kashare women through microcredit, stoves building, agricultural training and a Saturday centre for orphans and vulnerable children and their caregivers.  Some women are now requesting literacy and numeracy training. KICS’ WELL Uganda project (Women’s Empowerment through Literacy Learning in Uganda) has emerged in response.

WELL initially offers 120 local women the opportunity to join one of four literacy circles to develop their level of literacy in participative group sessions. The co-facilitators are local women, supported and supervised by an adult literacy educator who is experienced in the Reflect method. Further circles will develop as WELL becomes established and more women become facilitators. The circles bring together pre-literate women and those possessing low literacy skills with literacy training conducted in the local language (Runyankole),

Reflect is an internationally recognised approach to adult literacy with a record of success in empowering local communities – particularly women. Each Reflect literacy circle works on topics set in their immediate community context; facilitators help the women to produce their own learning materials. WELL also encourages older women to pair up with younger women to practise reading, writing and numbers daily while discussing events and issues.  The literacy circles can multiply and become self-sustaining.

Kashare women want to use their literacy skills to develop small businesses to improve their livelihoods, to gain greater understanding of women’s health and hygiene issues, to support their children’s education and to have a voice in the community. In short, they aim to lead empowered lives.

www.kiuganda.org

 

The Green Belt Movement
£5,000

The Green Belt Movement (GBM) was founded in 1977 by Professor Wangari Maathai (Nobel Laureate 2004) in response to the needs of rural women and environmental degradation in Kenya. GBM started with a simple first step: working with women to plant trees. Tree planting is used as the main activity in mobilizing rural communities to address their needs and to stand up for their rights on a broad range of issues such as governance over their land and resources, environmental education, and health.

 

Climate change is an issue which inherently affects the livelihoods of rural communities and women in Kenya. Unfortunately, the current climate change policies and actions in Kenya, and world-wide, do not provide effective support for community engagement in decision making, nor do they give sufficient emphasis on sustainable livelihoods and environmental conservation. There is a lack of awareness of the role and rights of local communities in addressing climate change both nationally and internationally.

 

Therefore, GBM’s approach has communities as central to the long term success of any initiative to address climate change. Our Climate Change Programme aims to strengthen the understanding and capacity of rural communities to take action against climate change. Our activities are focussed on increasing understanding of climate change and forests (including REDD+) approaches both at the local community level in Kenya in terms of responsibility and rights, and at policy decision makers, providing them with the information needed to take an informed decision about forests and REDD+. In preparation for the next UNFCCC climate change talks in December 2011 we will conduct civic & environmental education seminars at the community level. This year we will hold REDD+ workshops to sensitize communities about the impact of climate change, the role of communities and national policy to address climate change, and to build understanding.

 

MEMPROW: Mentoring and Empowering Programme for Young Women, Uganda
£5,000

The project  “Advocacy for promotion and protection of girls and young Women’s Rights in Institutions of Learning” is an effective strategy for addressing high school dropout and poor performance of girls, as well as their lack of skills for effective participation in leadership and the economy which are the major problems young women face in Uganda.

 

MEMPROW is currently engaged in an assessment of factors affecting girls and young women’s participation in education. Therefore, this funding will help in financing the following activities:

  •       An advocacy meeting to disseminate a sub regional report on factors affecting retention and performance of girls in education. The meeting will provide an opportunity for sharing the results and discuss recommendations for action. An immediate outcome of this will be the production of a checklist and guidelines for teachers and students to detect and address sexual and Gender based violence within institutions of learning
  •       A panel discussion with students and policy makers in the education sector. This will provide an opportunity for policy makers and managers of institutions of learning to have a face to face dialogue on factors affecting girls’ effective participation in education.

 

All these activities will take place in the MEMPROW Girls’ week of advocacy for the promotion and protection of girls’ and young women’s rights. This week comes during the 16 days of activism against Gender Violence (November to December)

 

Evaluating Anti FGM Campaigns in four regions of The Gambia
£10,000

GAMCOTRAP is the leading women’s rights NGO in The Gambia working on female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices. GAMCOTRAP engages in lobbying, advocating and sensitising various target groups on the consequences of FGM.

 

GAMCOTRAP has undertaken a series of community based activities for women, men, young people, security officers, circumcisers, chiefs, National Assembly Members among others. Participants became aware that FGM is a gender specific act of violence to women’s rights and health and noted that harmful traditional practices affect girls’ and women’s individual rights, freedoms, and preferences which are violated due to forced marriage and FGM at a young age.

 

Communities then reached consensus to stop FGM and worked with circumcisers to stop the practice. Between 2007 -2013 four dropping of the knife celebrations were organised involving 128 circumcisers with 900 communities. Each of the circumcisers was provided with alternative source of livelihood in exchange of the blade used on girls. However, one of the challenges faced was evaluating the impact of the programme because of difficulties encountered in obtaining resources.

 

Thus, this project funded by the Irene Bruegel Bequest intends to evaluate the effectiveness of approaches taken in sustaining the eradication of FGM campaign in 200 communities in the Lower River, Central River South and North and Upper River Regions over a period of one year.

 

Activities will involve interviewing 50 key informants in each of the four regions such as the chiefs, the politicians, community based facilitators, community leaders, women, ex- circumcisers and community based organisations. Focus group discussions will also be conducted in the project communities. It is hoped that the outcome of the exercise will contribute to the reduction of the appalling child and maternal health indicators.

www.gamcotrap.gm/content/