International Women’s day 2018  – Press for Change

To mark International Women’s Day on 8th March 2018, All One Collective attended the Queen’s Road Neighbourhood Centre celebrations in Park ward, Halifax and explored the 2018 theme ‘Press for Progress’ with women of different backgrounds living in Calderdale.

We asked them three questions:
1. What are the challenges that you currently face?
2. What would you like to change?
3. What do you love about being a women?

Such big questions can be difficult to answer, so as way of sparking thought and conversation we identified different areas of life that we thought woman at the event would find relevant and interesting, wrote them on cards, placed them on a table and encouraged women to add their own thoughts and ideas. Through this collaborative effort we identified the following 12 issues:

House work
Violence against women and girls
Sexual and Reproductive health
The sharing of jobs at home
Body image
Physical and mental health
Free time

What were the main challenges that women identified at the event?

Most of the women we spoke to had something to say about gender equality and perceived there to be a lack of equality between men and women in all aspects of society. From the home, where women spoke about doing the majority of the housework and childcare, to wider society where they underlined the difficulties women face in entering the workplace, the media and politics.

Some spoke of the feeling that they were not taken seriously, that their opinions carried less weight than men’s. Others highlighted the lack of recognition they received for the work that they did in the home and in caring for a family. Many spoke of the challenges of juggling competing demands as a housewife, mother, worker, friend, sister and daughter and the emotional labour associated with these roles.

The lack of equality between men and women when it comes to sharing childcare and the housework was a particularly emotive issue and a source of frustration for nearly all the women we spoke to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was also a generational difference in women’s experiences. One older women, for instance, said that she had been expected to do nearly all the work in the home by her first husband but that her experience had been different from her grandmother’s. She had gone to work and had freedoms that were not enjoyed by her grandmother, who she said had rarely left the house.

A young women, who had recently graduated from a local university said that her experience was more mixed -that she knew male/female couples who were very committed to an equal share of the housework and childcare but also admitted that this was still quite rare.

Women gave many answers for the root cause of this inequality ranging from patriarchal power structures, cultural expectations and individual laziness. As complex an issue as this can be, one woman was direct and succinct in her statement: “Men need to get off their bums and do something!”

Closely linked to women’s experiences of inequality relating to housework and childcare were gendered stereotypes and expectations, or as one woman put it, “a pressure to conform to feminine ideals”. A teenage girl clearly articulated the multiple pressures she faces when she wrote: “Life as a teenage girl: Standards, peer pressure, from other girls and boys, expectations of school, home, friends/family”.

Another woman wrote about the effect of these expectations on her body image: “Forever craving to be the right size. Perfect skin, perfect wife while being a perfect homemaker”

Many of the women we spoke to viewed domestic and caring responsibilities as a significant barrier for them entering into employment or accessing education and training as well as a source of isolation:“I think, as a women, what is difficult is when you become a mother there is a lack of childcare which hinders what you can do e.g. exercise, job and education.”

“When women become financially dependent on their partners and husbands it’s really hard to progress and get employment because of lack of confidence”

“You become isolated. By looking after your child, you can end up feeling lonely”

What would you like to change?
Generally speaking, the women we spoke to articulated the need for more educational and work opportunities, more childcare support to enable them to go to work, and more groups and activities to enable them to develop confidence and learn new skills.

In addition to this, the experiences that some women of colour and women with disabilities shared with us, reinforced the importance of considering all aspects of a women’s identity and how this shapes her experience of the world and the challenges she faces.

For example, two older deaf women who visited us at the event told us that they could not go to any of the groups for older/retired people in their area because they did not have funding to provide BSL interpreters. For them, the inclusion of a disability access budget in group activity planning is essential.

Women from migrant backgrounds called for the wider provision of ESOL classes and spoke of the importance of English proficiency in enabling them to access wider educational opportunities, whilst another woman declared: “It’s time to put women of colour centre stage!”

What do you love about being a woman?

With so many big issues on the agenda, we had little time to discuss what it is we love about being a woman! Some spoke about how much they enjoyed spending time with other women and the support and strength this gave them. One woman spoke about how the stereotype of women being emotional had worked against her but also gave her a sense of freedom in how she expressed herself.

For us at All One Collective, we came away from the event filled with respect and admiration for the way in which the women we spoke to were so open about their experiences and their obvious strength and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.