Centenary Cities Nottingham had put together a wonderfully diverse panel of speakers to discuss and debate: Sandeep Mahal, director of Nottingham City of Literature; Professor Shearer West, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham; Rabbi Tanya Sakhnovich, Rabbi at Nottingham Liberal Synagogue; Valentine Nkoyo, Director of the Mojatu Foundation; and Helen Voce, CEO at Nottingham Women’s Centre.
The talk was split into three main sections; women in public, women in work and women in private. Each speaker would get a turn at tackling the topic before the audience weighed in with their comments and questions.
Up first; women in public. In Nottingham, we’re lucky to live in the first UK city to class misogyny as a hate crime,something everyone in the room seemed proud of. The ruling enables Notts police to collect information regarding these types of incidents, including how often they are happening, and allows the police to work on making our streets safer. There’s now hope that a similar programme can be rolled out throughout the rest of the country.
Valentine chose to share a deeply personal poem that she had written as a young girl in Kenya to illustrate her journey to becoming a public figure. The poem was directed at her father, pleading with him to send her to school so she could gain an education. It was incredibly moving, and gave an insight into how hard she has fought to become the successful human rights activist she is today. It is Valentine’s personal opinion that when it comes to progressing women’s rights, every member of a family needs to be involved in this fight.
It emerged that a common problem for women in senior positions is the impact of social media; how these platforms enable these women to improve their public profile, but also opens them up to constant “trolling”. Hate and criticism can be hard to deal with at the best of times, but when it is coming from behind a computer screen and not from a face-to-face conversation, it can become even more frustrating for these high profile women. This was summed up well by Sandy, who noted that it seemed women who wish to enter senior positions, such as in politics, must possess the four C’s: cash, culture, confidence and childcare.
The next section looked into the challenges women face in the workplace, and how these might be overcome in the future. Unsurprisingly, the gender pay gap was an overriding theme throughout this discussion. Professor Shearer admitted that the University of Nottingham faced a challenge in this area, as the pay gap at the institution is currently higher than the national average of 18.4%. Twenty years ago, the staff at the university were predominantly male, and so diversity in the top job roles has been compromised by the decision of these men to stay on at the institution and move up the ranks. Her honesty was appreciated, and it was encouraging to hear that provisions have now been put in place to combat the institutions problem, such as gender blind application screening.
The panel agreed that when it comes to the workplace, we must work together to inspire and encourage women to apply for senior roles, and dispel the myth that their career must end once they start a family. It seemed that many women in the audience were keen for issues regarding maternity leave and promoting a shared responsibility for children to be addressed by employers. As far as inspiring confidence in working women, Helen hoped that the creation of groups like Time’s Up Nottingham would create a community where women can talk openly about their experiences at work, and hopefully find ways to discourage any behaviours that make them feel uncomfortable.
Finally, the talk moved on to women in the private sphere. It became apparent throughout the discussion that education is the best way to tackle issues of a private nature. From her time working with the Women’s Centre, it is no surprise to Helen that nationally, women are still topping the charts when it comes to both rates of anxiety and of domestic violence. However, she is complimentary of the work that Nottingham charity Equation have been doing in schools regarding domestic violence. By educating kids on these issues at a young age, in turn they’ve been able to reach more parents and education them on potential warning signs and where victims can go to access help.
100 Years On was an eye-opening and thought-provoking discussion that left me with plenty of food for thought. Going forward, it is important to remember the work of the suffragettes and other high profile female role models to inspire the next generation of females, but equally celebrate the work of these panelists and other kick-ass females. My personal takeaway from this talk was the feeling of comfort, from knowing that I live in a city which values women, trans women and other perspectives, and that is actively trying to protect and progress our rights.
100 Years On… The Long Road to Gender Equality took place on Wednesday 7th March.