They tell us that women are more empowered than ever. They tell us women are on boards. Female surgeons operate daily in theatres across the world and that a woman is even running this country. However, on International Women’s Day, I found myself wondering whether we should be celebrating our achievements or drawing up a blueprint for an all-out revolt!
My feminist plight has been mainly focused on campaigning and advocating for the voices of young women, especially mothers. I fell pregnant while at university and I was encouraged by tutors and lecturers to drop out and pick up my studies later on in life. I was not offered the same support that was given to mature students with children.
I completed my studies and have always worked to support my family. Unfortunately, people don’t see that when I am dressed down on the weekend and out with my son, I still receive judgemental looks. There is an immediate assumption that young mothers are irresponsible and strangers will sometimes even make comments such as, ‘you’re so young, how do you cope?’ The negative stigma attached to young mothers influences the way society sees us and needs to change.
I celebrated International Women’s Day with my four-year-old. As a mother to a son, I often find myself wondering what part he will play in the future. I do this because gender equality is not a reality for my generation but I hope it will be in his. We need a shift and I am confident and hopeful that my son will grow into a man who will play a role in this.
Thinking about what gender equality would look like I realised that having more women on boards, in senior roles and even eliminating the overall gender pay gap would be great, but how much would change for women who look like me? When I took on one of the most senior roles of my career so far, on my first day I scoped out the office. The company had great gender representation, there were women in all departments, at all levels of the companies and in the senior leadership team, but one thing was really apparent…
They were all white.
I was finally working for a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) company with good gender representation, but the lack of ethnic diversity was disappointing. After all this time advocating, campaigning and pushing a feminist agenda, it took that moment for me to understand the importance of intersectionality (the inclusion of various groups of women and their multi-layered qualities and experiences of life).
It is heart-breaking to think that gender parity may only become a reality for white women. The gender pay gap is greater for ethnic minorities, the representation of women on boards is significantly less for black women. In actual fact, many of the achievements that we celebrate as wins are highly dominated by white women – if gender equality is only a reality for one type of woman, is it really equality?
We need to push for gender equality for ALL women. Feminism is about women getting the same rights, opportunities and representation as men, but we shouldn’t celebrate equal representation if the women are all from the same race and class – that is not representative at all. It is difficult to celebrate how far we have come when so many women are still being left behind.
We cannot stop pressing for progress until there is true gender equality for ALL women. Let’s ensure women from all backgrounds are represented in businesses and boardrooms, and supported to thrive and succeed whatever path they take in life.