As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, I am already pleased to see that there has been a lot of media (especially social media) coverage on this special occasion, which also falls in Women’s History Month. The theme for this year is ‘Pledge for Parity’ which sets the tone for us to call for more equal opportunities for women everywhere.
The library and information playing field is fairly even and predominantly in favour of female professionals, but apparently men still hold senior roles. I have no personal battles with equality in my profession and employment otherwise. However, it may not be so rosy in other lines of work and in life in general. Although we have progressed in many ways over the years, the gender inequality statistics (World Economic Forum) show the facts, barriers, struggles, prejudices, stresses, glass-ceilings and rocky-paths are still here today.
Self-worth and self-belief are integral to understanding my intentions for joining the conversation on here. This stems from having great female role models that I have been fortunate enough to have in my early life in Trinidad. Some of these women include my mother, who is definitely a role model for her gentle, philosophical and giving nature. In the Caribbean growing up with my late sister, aunties, cousins, neighbours and schoolgirls was very formative and played a big part in the early stages of ‘The Sisterhood’. I also went to an all-girl secondary convent school established by the Holy Faith Sisters for seven years, where we had strong and intelligent teachers and nuns to educate us. We were encouraged to do well, to achieve and to aim high in our future endeavours, before we developed into young women. It might all be in hindsight and viewed with maturity, but this willingness for all of us to progress has made me, not just want the best for myself, but also for my friends and family. There was no easy way to get where we are today, and it feels even better when we are all achieving and progressing well. This is my reason for using Madeleine Albright’s quote below – a gentle reminder.
‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’.
– Madeleine Albright. American Politician and Diplomat.
At university many moons ago, we were asked to do a social history matrix, and coincidently, I was in the group that focussed on feminism from the 1800s to the early 1990s. This project made us research feminism from the industrial revolution, through the Women’s Liberation Movement, and right up to the modern late 20th century. I enjoyed researching British feminism then, and learnt a lot about Emmeline Pankhurst, and her contemporaries in the Suffragette Movement. These women were some of our feminist pioneers, and they paved the way for huge leaps in women’s equality and opportunities not just in the United Kingdom, but across the globe.
One of the great reasons for working in libraries and information centres is that we help all types of people regardless of gender, age, colour, geography, hierarchy, etc. We must be inclusive as well as diverse in subject and access. We are an open door in a physical and virtual space for interaction, services and knowledge-sharing. I have no ‘hang ups’ with anyone on this basic service level -all that is essential is mutual respect and understanding. These are the core principles and foundation for collaboration, progression and advancement for any business, and also is essential for advanced societies.
In my work at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre, women make up a large amount of our customers. They are mainly using the Centre to research, learn, create, start and grow their own businesses. Women (and their business partners) are literally “doing it for themselves” – finding independence by owning their own businesses. They may be working extra-hard in the day-job initially but more than likely, are having to manage and balance a home-life and any other commitments. The same goes to male entrepreneurs too. All startups require flexibility and an extra dose of harmony, especially if you are in a relationship or have a family. I have heard many real stories by successful entrepreneurs where family plays a big part in supporting or defining a successful business.
Another British Library rich resource that was launched a few years ago is the feminist Sisterhood and After archive. I have spent a few hours listening to real poignant stories of the Women’s Liberation Movement covering heavy topics such as abortion, working conditions, childbirth, education, equality, rights, sex, love etc. This is a great educational tool, and a fascinating archive for generations to come. In the library’s conference centre, I have also attended some feminist talks which were enlightening, funny and inspiring due to their historic nature and the personal stories told by real women activists.
This week also sees the return of the Women of the World festival in London’s Southbank Centre. I attended about five years ago to see the great Annie Lennox (what a heroine and champion!), Emile Sande and Katy B in concert. During the concert, Annie reminded us of some of the scary facts about the work that still needs to be done for women and girls across the globe. She also sweetly coerced us to declare loud and clear that “We are feminists!”. There is no doubt about it. Even if I wasn’t sure then, I said “I am a feminist!”. I saw her point in asking us together to be transparent and advocates on this serious issue.
In our ‘first world’, life may not be so difficult as some of the stories we hear of in the less developed countries of the world, but our struggles are slightly bearable due to the opportunities available to us.
I had the benefit of attending the last Precious Awards founded by the inspirational Foluke Akinlose. It was admirable to see women and men of colour recognised in their various roles in all fields of life. Attending and nominated for their outstanding levels of achievement ranging from law, corporations, entrepreneurs, self-employed, artists, engineers and charities. The speaker from Barclays Bank gave us some facts on the level of success for women, but also mentioned that it is even harder for women of colour to achieve in the United Kingdom. However, the great benefit of the Precious Awards ceremony was to recognise these women and men who are able to make their own luck, take destiny in their own hands and even better…break down the barriers for a successful pathway. Foluke mentioned that these winners will also be fabulous role models and an inspiration for younger generations to follow.
For International Women’s Day 2016, I haven’t planned or organised an event, as I have had in the past. I will be keeping track of community events in Walthamstow Central Library which I think will be very engaging. I will also be attending a fun talk and comedy night at a local pub Ye Olde Rose and Crown where the funds are going to support the End to FGM. As usual, I will be secretly happy, pleased and connected online and spiritually to all the celebrations across the world. I know that women and girls will come together to celebrate, demonstrate, protest, voice concerns, laugh, and most of all – support each other in what at times can be a cruel and unequal world as together we pledge for parity.