As we all know the 8th of March was International Women’s Day over the last few years there has been an increase in supporters and a massive increase in objectors to the concept. Year on year brands increasingly use International Women’s Day to promote their products. Unlike Mother’s Day and Father’s Day brands do not give you the option to opt out of receiving their emails and promotions so I can completely see why some may be bothered by the concept. In fact, in recent years, Procter & Gamble rebranded washing-up liquid Fairy to Fair to make a point about gender equality in household labour; The Body Shop hosted a “female empowerment” pop-up featuring free makeovers, facials, massages and hair-braiding; BrewDog released a pink beer for girls; McDonald’s flipped its logo to make it look like a W; and Gap printed inspirational quotes from famous women on its T-shirts. I could go on.
However, in Barking and Dagenham as the title suggests we never do anything subtly and for the last nine years we have been celebrating Women’s Empowerment Month which incorporates the 8th but has a whole month of promoting the work and achievements of the fabulous women in Barking and Dagenham both in history, and those playing an active role in whatever field in today’s world.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the premiere of Marianne a film made by Valentina Canavesio which documents the life of seven French Muslim women and their lives in France and the UK. One of the BEC’s best supporters Cllr Saima Ashraf, Deputy Leader is featured, and it looks at her life in the UK in comparison to her counterparts and the issues with Public Buildings and the Hijab ban. It was a fascinating film, and I learnt a huge amount about French politics and how these seven women are battling stereotypes. Cllr Ashraf talked about the UK being home and her journey into settling; as a local from Barking and Dagenham I do not always see what others see about Barking and Dagenham; I have always felt that there are far more glamourous places to live, Monte Carlo, Nice or at the very least by the sea😊 but I guess I learnt how acceptance in a place and being free to be yourself is so important and that makes up your sense of home.
I was full of my night out at the screening the next day and then heard the depressing story of a friend’s daughter a 15-year-old young woman who was prevented by a funder of activities in school from talking about her chosen International Women’s Day topic. A keen footballer her topic was about the difference between male and female professional football, completely representative of the difference in the women’s play compared to the men, the press coverage for women’s football, and of course gender pay gap however, this deemed by the school and the funder to be too controversial. This is evidence to me that we are still not there yet! No thought given to how this young person may have felt having worked hard to prepare a balanced argument on the differences, no consideration of how incidents like this can destroy your confidence and prevent you from engaging in future opportunities to speak.
I fully expect to get a phone call from Cllrs about this who will be outraged however it thankfully was not a Barking and Dagenham school, so they will be able to stand down on this injustice. This has however left me feeling that Women’s Empowerment month is vital for our communities and of course my world of business support. So, here’s to another year of championing fabulous women and of course the men who support them, there are many that do thankfully!