Celebrating International Women's Day 2017
How to raise the profile of women in politics, how to engage men in feminism, and how to tackle the taboos of sexual violence were among the issues highlighted for International Women’s Day (IWD) on Wednesday (8 March) at the University of Sussex.
Students were invited to explore this year’s IWD theme, “Be Bold for Change”, with the University’s Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Equalities and Diversity, Professors Andrea Cornwall and Claire Annesley, over an informal breakfast at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts.
Beth Munro, who is studying International Development and French, pointed out that women in the West were often reminded how much more equality they enjoy compared with other parts of the world, but that masked the fact that there was still a long way to go before equality is properly achieved, particularly in politics.
She said: “Politics is still seen as something that’s still quite male dominated. And when female politicians are talked about, it’s often in terms of their home life or what they are wearing.”
Beth, who is currently involved in a project that involves explaining the fundamentals of British politics to local school children, added: “What’s interesting is that when we have approached schools to talk about the project, it’s been the female members of staff and female students who have been the first to respond.”
Frida Gustafsson, USSU President elect, echoed the view. “There are so many women involved in politics in the UK, but it’s the men who seem to do all the talking and it’s quite rare for women to get to the level of MP.
“In Sweden, where I’m from, there’s much more equality for women. I find when I express my views here that I am seen as quite radical. I don’t think I am. It’s just what I expect.”
Melissa Kirwan, who is taking a Masters in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health, highlighted how, despite seeing progress in areas such as education and employment opportunities, sexual violence is still a major concern for women.
She said: “I’m quite an advocate for changing the culture of victim blaming, which makes it difficult for women to come forward. It’s massively important for women to be able to talk about their experiences. I think we really struggle with the idea that someone we love could be violent towards us – and there’s a stigma then in talking about it.”
For Zurina Khairuddin and Wan Nadia Asil Tun Ibrahim, International Women’s Day in their home country of Malaysia has become a celebration of how women are now visible in certain government roles and in education.
Zurina, who is studying Linguistics, said: “In terms of leadership, we don’t have an equality problem. The Secretary General is a woman, and there are women vice chancellors at Malaysian universities.”
But equality is less visible on the domestic front. Nadia, who is taking a Masters in Education, said: “Women in Malaysia are expected to perform well at work and to also be perfect wives and mothers. Most husbands expect their wife to cook dinner for them when she comes home from work. That’s what needs to change.”
For American Studies and Politics student Lauren McGrath, IWD was an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the women in her family.
She said: “Through my mum and my aunt, I have great role models in seeing how women can fulfil themselves and have a career and a family. But we need to keep women involved in the conversation, and listening to other women as well.”