St. Helena

International Women’s Day-A Series of Talks at the Museum of St Helena

28th March 2017

International Women’s Day is a yearly event that celebrates the lives and achievements of women that have for so long in history not been documented, recognised or discussed. For hundreds of years the history books did not mention the lives of half the population; apart from small side comments or how they may have assisted the men they worked for or were related to.

Even in the 21st Century-newspapers are more likely to report on men in stories and have more hard hitting stories discussed using the points of view of men. In the UK’s Sun newspaper page three, up until very recently, was synonymous with the topless young woman on the third page of the biggest selling national newspaper. It is only now, looking back as an adult, how being in that culture, where it is acceptable to show a half-naked woman, displaying her body amongst the biggest news stories of the day, when I think about the impact that must have had on me growing up and how I viewed the place of women in society.

I am grateful I am from one of the best countries in the world for female opportunities and I live in a time of history where the generations of women who have gone before me have fought for the rights that entitle me to vote, to go to university to ascend to the highest positions of power and responsibility. To combine that all with having a family where maternal mortality is at a record low and a partner who would support me and share in domestic duties is indeed a privileged position to be in.

On St Helena, women make up a considerable size of the workforce and hold positions where implementing real change is achievable in the community and overseas.

The Human Rights Society on St Helena had put together a program of talks this week to celebrate the progress and highlight some struggles that women face both on island and abroad. The theme of the 2017 talks was one of ‘women in the work force’.

Members of the audience were encouraged to send a picture of a woman that inspired them. The woman I chose was of my Great Aunt, Dame Elizabeth Lane.  Sadly, I never met her, but she was an inspiring lady, having been the first female High Court Judge in England. To have gone so far, in what was such a male dominated world at the time, makes me very grateful for women like her for paving the way. Her work considering the workings of the Abortion Act to ensure it is fit for purpose, impacts women in the UK to this day, long after her death.

On Monday, ‘Women in Education’ was the theme of the evening and we were joined by Wendy, Lolly and Shirley who all hold positions of overseeing the education of the young people of the island. It was heartening to hear how long women on St Helena had been in teaching positions and throughout the education of children women have played an integral role. Wendy also went on to tell us about Malala Yousafzai who, although I had heard of and followed her story, I did not realise at what a young age she started her activism.

The speakers also spoke about the impact of male support in achieving our goals. They had fathers, like Malala’s who whole heartedly believed in education for their daughters. My great aunt, had her husband’s support in pursuing her law career. She was initially helping him out with his studies when she decided to study for the bar exams. Emma Watson’s campaign, ‘He For She’, highlights the wonderful role that men can play in facilitating the advancement of women’s place in the world, as fathers, husbands, brothers and friends.

On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of welcoming three of St Helena’s police officers. They talked about the changing role of women in the police and how, one of them, starting her career in the 1980s, was issued with a handbag. Something that seems absurd now. It’s clear that the role women are expected to take on has changed a great deal.

It was also interesting hearing the difficulties all the local police face when protecting and serving their local community. In such a small population of 4,500, the chances of knowing who you are putting handcuffs on or who you are pushing yourself between to break up a fight is high. They could be people you drink with, went to school with or are related to. One woman in the audience described how it would be difficult to interfere in a small misdemeanour if it was a friend that had broken the law. A very different policing environment compared to working in a city.

On Thursday, we were treated to a fantastic Q and A with the Governor of St Helena, Lisa Philips, Joanne Cheeseborough, The St Helena Resident Representative from the Department for International Development (DFID) one of the elected local councillors, Cruyff Buckley and Adele Mchanon, senior social worker. Lydia Buchanan was hosting the evening and asked some insightful questions. We discussed the barriers women have in the work place and ways to rise past it, and do a fantastic job regardless.

Friday’s talk was discussing the importance issue of domestic violence. It’s a sad situation when 1 in 3 women is a victim of this during her lifetime. I unfortunately missed this as I was helping women doing the most magical thing, women are uniquely designed to do, giving birth!

Happy International Women’s Day everyone.

 

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