As a child, nothing mattered to me more than the opinion of my grandmother. In seeking answers to the very pressing questions that 7 years old children often have, I would trust that she held the answers to all I needed to know. On occasion the answers that I received were almost too ambiguous for me to fathom, and some of the answers that I received in my endless pursuit of knowledge are only just beginning to make sense in my mind.
Most notably, the question “Grandma, are you a feminist?” was met by the answer “I am a person, first and foremost”.
For years, I was troubled by this response. She has been unapologetically herself all the time I have known her. When my grandfather’s friends warily suggested to him at the age of 19 that he should not allow my grandmother to drive, they both simply laughed. A national advocate for older women in the workplace aged 60, pink hair at 70, an IT teacher at 75, and tattoos still appearing as we near her 80th birthday I still could not decipher until recently how she did not scream the word “feminist” from the rooftops every morning that she awoke, and between every mouthful of her supper before bed.
Questions that I’m still asking of the world (and my grandmother) include the following:
Why are women still less likely to put themselves forward for pay rise/ promotion, despite having the same level of experience as their male counterparts?
I believe in a world where the self-belief held by women no longer bears the scars of years of side-lining and marginalisation, especially within the workforce. I am passionate about facilitating expressive workshops, as inspired by the likes of Deborah Frances-White, to allow women to take up space and find their voice in events such as readings of traditionally male power speeches… ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH!
How can it be that each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 - equating to 28 girls every minute?
Our community stretches far further than the Suffolk boarders. Reaching out to not only local but also to national and international charities is an incredibly rewarding way of bringing lives together. As a volunteer with Save the Children and Girl Guiding UK, I see the fantastic impact that fundraising efforts have, often raising hundreds of pounds and raising awareness on key issues that otherwise go under the radar. I am very keen to network with relevant charities and organisations to make the voice of UOS women heard whilst we fight for the world we want to live in.
Why is it, that up to 80% of victims of sexual assault are still too frightened to report crimes and receive support?
Nobody, female or otherwise, should feel threatened on campus. Following the success of the “Ask for Angela” anti-sexual violence campaign that went viral at Lincolnshire University, I see huge potential for a similar system to be set up on our own campus to give reassurance to those who feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, targeting venues most frequented on student nights-out. Issuing safety nets like this ensure that our actions are seen to be proactive, rather than reactive.
When will It be time for women and girls worldwide to receive parity in education, voting rights and civil liberties?
Despite recent gains made in women's representation within politics, women continue to be under-represented at all levels of British politics. Women are more than half of the population, but less than a third of MPs, lagging behind several European counterparts, as well as many African and Latin American countries – including the world leader, Rwanda. Encouraging women from every end of the political spectrum to make their views heard is integral. Providing a space for women to address their fears and embrace their anger is non-negotiable, and begins the conversation about political activism. I will endeavour to create new contacts and setup opportunities for keynote speakers to visit the university, in the hope of inspiring a new generation.
It wasn’t until I read the works of Rebecca West that I understood more where my grandmother’s answer had stemmed from. Upon being asked if she too was a feminist, author Rebecca West (1892-1983) mused “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” My grandmother had grown up in a world where feminists were said to be bra-burning, men-hating radicals – but we know the word now by it’s true meaning. Regardless of what you choose to call it, gender equality or feminism, it means only one thing. We are human. And we will not be treated less than that. Intersectional equality is not a notion or concept to be mulled over and debated, nor is it something we should be aiming loosely for.
It's a necessity. We can achieve it.