The real life stories of two high achieving women, Baroness Sal Brinton and Watford’s elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill, were regaled at the annual meeting of Watford Women’s Centre at the YMCA on Thursday last week.

The evening celebrated 100 Years of Women Voting and the centre’s 22nd birthday.

The audience of more than 60 women and men heard an opening address by Baroness Brinton, who is the great niece of Mary Stocks, one of the very first suffragists active before World War I. Sal, as the Liberal Democrat Baroness prefers to be called, told of her work to bring to fruition the stalking bill that becomes law in November saying: "If I leave the House of Lords tomorrow it is the one thing of which I can be proud."

During the period before it becomes law Sal explained that training was going on with the police, the courts and the legal profession.

Prior to the new legislation she said, stalking was dealt with in the same way as neighbourhood harassment, and not considered a particularly serious offence.

But from November it will be a crime and will be treated like any other offence, which has massive implications for women fleeing domestic violence, many of whom are stalked by their partners.

Two women stood and told their own stories of how they had been helped to make new lives. Support from the Watford Women’s Centre let them work through crises and develop the skills to move from situations that were dangerous for themselves and their children, to fulfilled family lives and careers.

Watford Women’s Centre Chief Executive Tracey Burke explained that more than 2.3 per cent of Watford’s voting population of women had used the centre in the past year.

In addition to crisis support, the centre provides learning opportunities in life skills, work place skills such as computing and English Spoken as Another Language.

Men can also access some of that learning and a referral service exists for men who are victims of domestic violence. The centre will be applying for more funding next year to enhance the services for men once the main funding for the centre has been secured.

Dorothy Thornhill closed the meeting by talking about her first experiences of sex inequality.

Banned by her local authority in Preston from working as a paper girl, Dorothy challenged the existing wisdom to balance opportunities.

It was part of the bye-laws that girls could not be employed in that capacity and so the local papershop owner reluctantly fired her when ordered to do so by the local authority. Dorothy challenged the legislation by writing to the Mayor and visiting him, arguing her case and within six weeks the bye-law was repealed.

In her closing address Dorothy also stated her admiration for the work of the centre and commented on the valuable service it provides.

Watford Women’s Centre can be contacted on 01923 816229.