To celebrate #IWD2020 we spoke to four colleagues asking them questions about this year’s theme, #EachforEqual, an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements while calling for greater equality. Interviewed are Angelina Idun, Director; Bridgette Ellis, Marketing Executive; Ellen Renton Pearce, Head of Business Development; and Zeynep Koch, Membership Development Manager.
What does #EachforEqual mean to you?
Respecting the person in front of me: recognising the potential that exists in their life regardless of whether I know what it is or judge it to be.
Being brave enough to call out inequality, unfairness and unkindness wherever we see it or hear it and be ready to put a spotlight on bias. It is also noticing which person or which group has been left out or is underrepresented because of their gender, religion, race, sexual orientation or disability – and doing something about it. #EachforEqual is valuing and celebrating difference and diversity.
Recognising your power and responsibility, individually and collectively, to challenge barriers to equality at all levels. We all come from different backgrounds and are part of different communities, either by choice or chance. It’s our responsibility to shine a light on the strengths we recognise, challenge the flaws and fight to remove the barriers in these communities so they can be inclusive spaces free from discrimination and the disenfranchisement of any minority race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or disability. I’m a strong believer that ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’ are the words that should make the world go around. Another world free from inequality is possible but relies on each of us to fight for it both as individuals and as a collective.
Inclusion and acceptance. Standing up to social stigmas and allowing yourself to be unapologetically you, not taking into consideration factors such as race, age, gender or even social class.
As a woman, who inspires you?
Alice Walker: in my first term at university another student gave me a copy of The Colour Purple to read. Despite having always been a big reader and with an English literature A-level, this was the first time I read a book written by or about someone who looked like me. Not only that, she was tackling issues of gender inequality, racism, sexuality and more in such a powerful and fearlessly controversial way. It’s the book that inspired me to seek out more black female writers and poets whose works positively affected how I thought about self-image, heritage and what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.
Alice Walker is also the name of another resilient, resourceful woman, who in 1954 arrived on a ship from Ghana to start her life in England. That woman became my mum. I am in awe of how she and women like her faced down immense challenges and got on with the business of building their new lives in an often-unwelcoming environment, laying the foundations for their children to go further.
So many people spring to mind as I am writing this. Daisaku Ikeda, who has dedicated his life to grass-roots dialogue across the world in order to bring people together through shared humanity and to overcome differences; Wangari Maathai, who established the Green Belt Movement to educate and mobilise Kenyan communities to plant trees and combat deforestation; a friend who works with a counsellor of men that have physically abused their partners. He taught me so much about humanity through his treasuring of women.
There’s inspiration I can find in so many different characters, connections and relationships. Sometimes I know them personally, sometimes they are fictional characters and sometimes public figures. Recently, in the public sphere, I have been equally inspired by both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg and their relentless fight for a better world for all socially, economically and environmentally. In fiction, I have been really inspired by the character development of Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy, with her inner strength and desire to help people despite her personal losses and misfortunes. In my personal life, a friend I did my teacher training with who has fulfilled her decade-long goal and established Porridge and Pens Ghana, a charity that now provides food and education to over 200 of the poorest children in Kumasi, Ghana. The thing that all of these women have in common, which is the source of inspiration for me, is an unwavering desire for social justice and equality which they each fight for fearlessly and relentlessly in their own unique ways.
The obvious answer might be to say ‘mum’, but truth be told it’s my sister. As a young girl growing up, having a sister who was older than me (by 17 years) allowed me, I believe, to see first-hand not only the struggles that a young woman faced in that era, but also the hurdles you can overcome if you are ambitious, patient and determined. She gave me an insight into the woman I knew I wanted to be but also taught me that loving onesself wholly was the most valuable thing a person could ever do.
What unique contributions do you hope to make to this agenda?
The Jamaican coat of arms motto is ’Out of many, One people’ which is a tribute to the unity of the different cultural minorities who inhabit the country. In my professional and personal life, I have experienced what it is like be in a minority, what it is like to be at the end of abuse and what it is like to feel isolated. Because of those experiences I now sit on a mentoring board for a community project, sharing my stories with the local youth in the hopes to not only raise awareness of these experiences, but also support, encourage and inspire.
As a result of my ethnic background, I’ve always understood the impact that inequality can have on an individual and communities. Born into a Kurdish family in Turkey who then migrated to the UK, I’ve been lucky enough to experience two different cultures simultaneously, which has really helped broaden my world view and develop aptitude to challenge and call out inequality at every opportunity. Whether it be educating older relatives on homophobia and racism, or challenging certain cultural pre-conceptions and expectations of me as a woman, guiding and mentoring younger women or challenging gender inequality at my university as a young activist, I’ve always been quite vocal and active in the fight for social justice and equality. I’d want to continue to do this and hearten other women to do so too.
To challenge myself to live what I believe in every moment, which is an ongoing struggle when we are blustered around by circumstances in our daily lives. However, through this challenge the causes I am advancing right now will determine the future. Every person has a part in creating that future.
Ubuntu – a person is a person because of other people.
Years ago, I heard a South African school leader sum up the spirit of this Zulu proverb saying, “if you want to achieve what you want to achieve, help others achieve what they want to achieve”. In my personal and professional life, I have the daily privilege of being able to support, champion and develop others and model and express values like respect, harmony and compassion that are captured by ubuntu. It is so important to making Each for Equal a reality.
What advice would you give to empower your younger self?
It’s going to take you several years to discover your identity and authenticity – try to enjoy the journey and not be hard on yourself along the way. Do not compare yourself to others and do not make choices based on others’ expectations; or you’ll end up going to places meant for others, not you. You’re going to need to work a lot on your confidence – remember that confidence comes from experience and experience comes from practice. Don’t let fear of failure or judgement stop you from practising and getting experience. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let it anchor you: instead, learn to channel it as a vehicle to achieve things that excite and inspire you.
Know, accept and love who you are. You cannot be limited by how some might choose to define or see you or restricted by where some might want to place you. Hold tight to those who will help you to gain the courage, confidence, and wisdom you need to open the doors and walk into any room you choose to be in, and believe that you have a right and deserve to be there.
People will have a perception of you, but that is the outer you. Do not be discouraged if someone cannot accept you for who you are, as long as you see and know yourself for who you are. You will face hurdles, you will face challenges, but nothing compares to the power you have within you to make a change. Your confidence will be knocked time and time again, but every time you get up you will become more confident. Believe in yourself, because that belief is all you need.
This quote by Dr.Daisaku Ikeda sums it up perfectly:
”May you live in such a way that others will say, ’She is a woman who, though ordinary, somehow stands out, and has a beautiful story to tell’.”