Why do we celebrate international Women’s day?
Celebrated on 8th March annually, International Women’s Day is a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women globally. It is also a day to recognise steps taken towards gender equality and address action still needing to be taken.
This year the theme of International Women’s Day is #ChoosetoChallenge. At the University of Reading, we have a long history of challenging the status quo of gender roles. Edith Morley was the first woman appointed to a chair at a British university-level institution, after becoming English professor at University College Reading (now the University of Reading). In her autobiography, she described the appointment as:
“my contribution to the battle for fair dealing for women in public and professional life”
Our annual lecture in her name celebrates her contribution and provides a platform for us to amplify the voices of women today who are choosing to challenge the status quo. This year, this special event featured writer, activist, podcaster and journalist, Scarlett Curtis. You can watch the event here again via this link.
International Women’s Day 2021 at UoR
We have asked our staff and students to tell us what the theme of #ChoosetoChallenge means to them. Here’s how they responded…
PhD student in the corporate governance of Aramco
I am a tree rooted home
I am a summer breeze
I am diversity
I am what I am
By: Asaiel Alohaly
Co-chair of the Women@Reading Network
Courage – this is my new mantra. I don’t have much of it. I am like the lion in The Wizard of Oz.
If we don’t have courage, we will never be seen or heard. Our voices will be mute, our deeds and achievements will go unrecognised. When other voices are loud and deep, we need to raise ourselves up and speak, with confidence and conviction. Other voices don’t wait to be absolutely true to facts when they speak, but they do so anyway. We hold back, until we’re absolutely 100% sure that we are correct. And while we wait, the world, and the opportunity has passed us by.
Speak up with courage. Do your deeds with courage. Be a human being on this planet with the courage that you are as good as any other and have the same rights as any other to be heard and seen.
Rise up Women – and fill yourselves with Courage!!!
Dr Bolanle Adebola
Associate Professor of Law
Co-Lead for Diversity and Inclusion, School of Law
Co-Lead, UoR Staff BAME Network
Convener, Commercial Law Research Network Nigeria (CLRNN)
I #Choose to Challenge (the Notion that Women are not Effective Leaders)
The year 2020 was remarkable globally, as well as personally. It was the year of the pandemic which saw women disproportionately affected by the recession it precipitated. It was also the year in which female heads of government were applauded for their decisive leadership that averted the high death toll experienced in counterparts with male heads of government. The year of Kamala Harris – the first female and Minority Ethnic Vice President of the United States. Despite these strides, the Reykjavík Index for Leadership shows that women are still not considered equally able to lead as men.
For me, 2020 was the year in which I stepped into visible leadership roles to challenge barriers, inequity and exclusionary practices. A negative experience in November 2019 led me to investigate the racial experiences of other colleagues at the University. The answers I found were heartrending. So, I chose to challenge by co-founding a network for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff in January 2020. Through the UoR Staff BAME Network, we raise awareness and challenge the experiences on which we once were silent, with the aim of influencing change. The University responded by commissioning the Race Equality Review co-led by one of its Minority Ethnic female Professors and deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Parveen Yaqoob.
I was also concerned for students from these Minority Ethnic communities. I became Co-Lead for Diversity and Inclusion at the School of Law, and through this role, investigated the possibility of an awarding gap for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students. I found a gap, which averaged 10.3% across the group over the 3 years of data that we had. I disaggregated the data to ensure that we obtained an accurate picture of the gap for each Ethnicity. The picture was much starker for Black and non-Chinese Asian students. I chose to challenge the situation by engaging colleagues in conversations. In collaboration with a committee of staff and students, I embarked on awareness raising and solution seeking conversations. I am happy that several colleagues of all races and across functions are contributing to the change that is underway.
As a leader, I have initiated and participated in several important but uncomfortable conversations in various spaces within my School and the wider University. It is not easy leading the charge but I #Choose to Challenge barriers, inequity and exclusionary practices.
RUSU Women’s Officer
#choosetochallenge non-intersectional feminism
This International Women’s Day, I’m choosing to challenge non-intersectional feminism. I first of all want to highlight the fact I am a straight, white, able-bodied woman, and so there are many struggles faced by women globally that I can never understand. The main crux of intersectional feminism is that we, as feminists, should not and cannot focus solely on issues which only affect people reflective of ourselves. It is not effective to the women’s rights movement to view certain issues as ‘them’ problems – as feminists we must fight for the liberation of every woman, regardless of their race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, and so on. One of the most important women’s rights activists in promoting intersectionality was Fannie Lou Hamer, who said:
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free”
I’m often hit with the criticism: ‘We don’t need feminism! Women are equal in this country!’. The thing these people need to hear is that every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18, and that there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. Should we not fight for these girls with no voice, just because it will most likely never affect us? As women, we cannot consider ourselves free when these shocking statistics still exist, and when female lives are being compromised to such an extent. This is why intersectionality is so important, and that racism has no place in the feminist movement.
Dr Eileen Hyder
Manager of FLAIR CPD Scheme
Chain of solidarity and love – Women in Moscow took part in a ‘Chain of Solidarity and Love’ on Valentine’s Day in support of both Yulia Navalnaya (the wife of the jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny) and also women prosecuted for political reasons. The event’s organiser said, ‘Come with flowers, with red clothing items and with paper hearts attached to your clothes, on which you can write the names of the women with whom you want to express solidarity. We want to remind ourselves that love is stronger than fear’. I find it powerful and inspiring when women choose to challenge injustice in ways that show strength and gentleness simultaneously.
Dr Ellen McManus-Fry
Chair of the Parent and Family Network
Prospect Research Officer
About this time, 3 years ago, I came back to work following maternity leave. My daughter was only 4 months old, due to how my husband and I had divided up our shared parental leave and was still exclusively breastfed. This meant that I needed to be able to express and store milk during the working day that my husband could then feed to our baby at home.
Breastfeeding wasn’t something which had been mentioned at all in the maternity policy or in any other information I’d been given by the University, and I only knew that I could request to be provided with a suitable space to pump thanks to a colleague and friend, Nicola Hall, who had recently been through the same thing herself. I had great support and help from my manager and from Estates, who identified and adapted a room for me to use – installing a lock and blocking out the door window, albeit a week after I returned to work.
However, I was surprised that there were no facilities already in place and there was a sense that I was the first woman to ever make a request like this, which I knew could not be the case. It didn’t feel right that the onus was on me, amid all the other challenges of returning to work after having a baby, to seek out and arrange these facilities; facilities which were vital to enable me to return to work whilst continuing to feed my child in the way I had chosen to.
Together with Nikki, I decided to investigate how other women had managed returning to work whilst breastfeeding and sent out an email asking for colleagues to share their experiences. I was shocked at some of the responses I got. Women had pumped in their cars; in the toilets; in managers’ offices, temporarily vacated; they had stopped breastfeeding sooner than they wanted to because they didn’t think it would be possible after they returned to work; they had to manage their schedule so that they could work from home during times when their child needed feeding.
Around that time the Staff Forum had put out a call for ideas for staff welfare projects and Nikki and I submitted a proposal to establish dedicated breastfeeding facilities on campus. We were successful, and although it has taken longer than expected, we will be ready to launch and promote our ‘parent-friendly rooms’ once the campus reopens. There will be three rooms (for now!): one in Meteorology at Earley Gate, one at London Road and one in the Library on Whiteknights, and they are intended to be comfortable, private spaces where colleagues can pump and store breastmilk or breastfeed privately, if the child is on campus with them.
The other, larger, thing which came out of this initial project was the establishment of the Parent and Family Network, which began in summer 2019 with Nikki and I as Co-Chairs. It has since grown to an active online community of over 300 colleagues, and I have a lot of plans for the Network in the future. I think there is great power and great value in colleagues connecting with each other to share their experiences, identifying where things could be improved and working together to make that improvement happen.
Thank you to all the contributors to this blog post!