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International Women’s Day: Embracing Equity

8 March 2023

4 mins

International Women’s Day (IWD) is about gender equality and 8 March 2023 is the 113th anniversary of the event, providing us an opportunity to celebrate women and their contributions.

I wanted to take the opportunity to use the day and this week to remember all those incredible women around the world who have had an influence on our lives, no matter how big or small.  Those who inspired others by challenging stereotypes in their own way and creating pathways that opened the doors for other women, who could see themselves in every walk of life, work, innovation, research, education, study and play.

As a young girl I was surrounded by ‘phenomenal women’ and as a woman, I continue to be surrounded by ‘phenomenal women and girls’ – each of whom make untold contributions that quietly yet determinedly impact the outcomes of others. The contributions of some women may be well known and celebrated globally, others have often been underplayed, sidelined, overshadowed or forgotten. Does this make them less powerful, I would argue not.  Lesser known perhaps, but equally powerful and in some ways more so because of the seemingly insurmountable barriers that they somehow overcame – ‘phenomenally’.

I invite you to think about the women you know who have influenced you in one way or another and take a moment to appreciate them.  After all, as a well known song goes, this world would be nothing without a woman or a girl.

Despite this, even after 113 years of IWD, discrimination, harassment, hate crimes and unequal treatment still exists. There are still barriers to entry to education and health care; some professions and career pathways remain restricted and pay differentials are still prevalent in many organisations including in Higher Education organisations like ours! These inequalities are often amplified by the impact of intersectionality. 

Intersectionality describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class, power and other forms of discrimination intersect to create unique dynamics and effects meaning that people are affected by multiple structures at once.  These often traditional systems, policies, procedures and societal norms can further compound the barriers faced or limit the availability of opportunities based on preconceptions. This means we might have privilege in some situations and yet be oppressed in others. Intersectionality recognises that no individual will experience inequality in exactly the same way as anyone else.

I think about my own mother who despite getting the top marks in her class and acing the tests set for her in the UK was denied the opportunity to train as a medical doctor, because she was a woman and because she was black.

This example and multiple others highlight why this year’s IWD theme of ‘embracing equity’ is so important not least because redressing these inequalities requires a systems approach. One where we proactively tackle these complex and often interrelated challenges in equitable ways. 

This may sound all well and good but what does equity actually mean?  From my perspective, equity means recognising that we are different, we have unequal beginnings which can result in unequal outcomes. Whilst we may some have similarities, our experiences may be different as such our needs and requirements may also be different as we do not all start from the same place.  The way this is translated into the day to day, how people are perceived, treated, and what they have access to often directly impacts on the fundamental principles of fairness, justice, dignity and respect.

Embracing equity acknowledges this tension and enables us to make adjustments to dismantle these barriers. This should be a common goal and not rest on the shoulders of those who face gender inequity. It should be something we all strive for because to quote Maya Angelou – ‘when you know better, you {should} do better’.

So let’s celebrate IWD for the progress that has been made.

Let’s recognise the pioneers and the women and girls who make a difference everyday by virtue of who they are and what they do.

Let’s acknowledge we have more to do.

Let’s work together to create a more inclusive environment and culture where ones gender is no longer a barrier (perceived or otherwise) but is equally respected and celebrated.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Reflections, comments, discussion and opinion on EDI topics from Loughborough University staff and students

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