This year International Women’s Day (IWD) is marking #balanceforbetter, and calling for a more gender-balanced world. It may not be a surprise to hear that volunteering and the volunteering sector is one arena where women often outnumber men and there is a healthy level of female involvement throughout.

However this IWD we want to highlight the power and potential of volunteering, not simply for having women involved, but as a way they can effect change over some of the most important issues their lives and wider society. At Volunteering Matters we believe volunteering and social action helps people change lives and communities, and we build volunteering programmes to reflect this.

We have found that our peer-led volunteering models, where volunteers co-produce and deliver messaging on what they most care about to their peers, have immense impact. Our work, and volunteers, can support some of the most vulnerable groups to make life-enhancing changes.

For instance, 1.4 million women and girls in the UK suffer harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours. The Government’s 2015 Violence Against Women and Girls Report highlighted the essential role that confidence in speaking out and reporting crimes play in fighting the issue.

Our Woman Against Sexual exploitation Speak Up (WASSUP) engages 30 young volunteers in Ipswich who raise awareness of sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, honour based violence and gang grooming. The volunteers help other young women and girls through campaigns, workshops, signposting and awareness raising. To date the team has engaged with more than 500 young people in educational settings and about 60 professionals (including police and social workers), with the team delivering more than 40 workshops in schools across the east of England. The interactive toolkit they produced is endorsed by Suffolk Safeguarding Board.

In the words of one volunteer, who described their initial life trajectory as being “not merely glass ceiling but a concrete ceiling just because of gender, ethnicity or the class they were born into”. She adds that, “The opportunities’ WASSUP provides turns that concrete into glass and I think having access to something like it should be compulsory because positivity and hope for change is essential for every young person”.

In Wales our SAFE  project ( Sexual Awareness for Everyone) has enabled peer-led volunteering on the subject of relationships and sexual health for women with learning difficulties. Through co-facilitated workshops, SAFE  gives young women with learning disabilities the tools to identify appropriate and safe relationships. Mandy Wilmott, who manages the project, says, “The power of peer-led programming is that it empowers people with low in confidence, enabling them to transform themselves those around them.”

For example, Nicola, in Pontypool felt very isolated with few social outlets. She was invited to a presentation evening with Volunteering Matters and started talking to Mandy about doing some volunteering for the project with her.  She wanted to do something for herself and help others. So she started a group with girls from the Integrated Autism Service in Pontypool

Nicola led her own change: “We did some training in relation to working with those with autism, and I helped carry out research and design and develop the materials we would be using.

“I am now co facilitating the group and love it! I am helping others, getting important messages across and gaining confidence week by week. The group is like a social event and I also do 1-1 mentoring with one of the young women who finds it more difficult to keep focused in the workshop.”

So this IWD we celebrate all the women who make the volunteering sector what it is, and especially those in our peer-led projects, driving change for themselves and their communities.