What kinds of things do you challenge? This is a general question but on International Women’s Day, I’m aiming it particularly at women. Depending where in the world you are as you read this, your answer will vary dramatically.
Thanks to the support of people like you who read my blog, its content manages to reach people living around your corner and much further afield. I write it from my living room in Stokesley but because you share it and others re-share, it’s read in far flung countries around the world including places such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Columbia; countries where, if you are a woman, the ability to challenge is compromised. In several parts of Nigeria, violence against women is a cultural norm in communities where women are regarded as ‘belonging’ to their husbands. Forced marriage is illegal in every country in the world but throughout Pakistan, as in several other countries, it’s still common practice to be forced to marry a man against your will. In Saudi Arabia, it’s only two years since women have been able to drive unaccompanied and in Columbia, violence and attacks against women’s rights activists continue to be commonplace four years after the war torn nation’s peace agreement came into effect. Choosing to challenge as a woman? It depends where you live and whether your life is at risk if you do so.
When I celebrate International Women’s Day today, I won’t be looking over my shoulder with fear. I won’t be afraid to hold my head high and acknowledge what it is to be a woman in 2021. I won’t be at risk of being targeted because I’ve used my right to express my opinion. Instead, I’ll be joining women across the globe who live in freedom and who speak up for others whose birthplace and where they happen to live, means speaking out is not a viable option.
Choosing to challenge is a life skill. It creates empowerment and progress towards ending gender bias and inequality. The women who went before us who died trying to secure the right for women to vote and the women who found themselves in positions, often of privilege, where their voices could be heard, have paved the way for us to exercise our ability as women in 2021 to challenge and to end discrimination. Three years ago, The Equality and Human Right’s Commission published their report Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Report in 2018. With 10 themes and 30 subthemes it’s a detailed but compelling read. It highlights the progress that’s been made since 2013 such as the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act and stringent regulations on gender pay gaps but it also comprehensively reviews the issues that continue to affect gender inequality against women. Reading this report makes me both angry and grateful; angry that still in 2021 there are women in the UK whose lives are lived under daily clouds of fear and coercion and grateful that I live in safety, with freedom and choice.
Being human means we feel emotions. As a woman reading this, never apologise for being in tune with yours, it’s what makes you a compassionate human being and if you’re fortunate enough to live with the ability to challenge and thereby able to help to create change, we can use our emotions to drive us forward in helping women who are living without the the privilege of choice.
Emotional resilience is developed through facing the challenges that life throws at us. Being nurtured in an environment that fostered resilience, is part of how I was socialised. I am grateful that I recognise this. My childhood was filled with care, love and support. Many women across the world live their whole lives never having experienced the empowering ability of those three words.
International Women’s Day 2021 reminds me that choice is a privilege that is still denied to millions of women worldwide who have yet to witness its transformative power. In some of my professional work I see firsthand the transformative power of choice. Working with the team at the Halo Project has taught me lots of things, one of which is that not seeing something in our day-to-day lives doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. The most appalling things are often very well and cleverly covered up; in that way they can continue to exist. The Halo Project exists to break the silence around forced marriage, honour-based violence and FGM.
#ChoosingToChallenge is a choice I have every day. As I celebrate this fact, I’m also remembering those who don’t currently possess this option. You are not forgotten. We hold you in the light as we continue to shine a spotlight on your darkness.