To mark International Women’s Day Ruth Marks, Chief Executive of WCVA talks about the personal significance of the day to her past, present and future.
In the lead up to International Women’s Day 2021 I’ve been reflecting on what the day means to me and my thoughts have grouped themselves in three ways.
Firstly – memories of projects and work in the past, secondly – current issues, and thirdly – looking to the future.
My earliest recollections of doing some work linked to International Women’s Day was in the construction industry. Working in the Construction Industry Training Board in the 1990s I was responsible for promoting careers in construction and allied professions to girls and women.
It was really encouraging to see that large employers were keen to present the range of job roles and careers that are available in this part of the economy. Interestingly it was often the smaller firms, family businesses, who had opportunities for daughters and granddaughters to follow on in the family tradition.
One annoying feature though was the fact that I was given white wellies with protective steel toe caps to visit muddy building sites. I was grateful for the protective clothing but wish the boots were the same colour as my male colleagues. I wonder who made that purchasing decision?
A few years later I was involved in promoting Opportunity 2000. A campaign to support women in their career development, finding ways through, around and connected with the glass ceiling. Working with some of the biggest employers in the UK and linking with the Equal Opportunities Commission at the time made for fascinating conversations and insights.
The interest and support from the EU was also very helpful and enabled good links with officials and MEPs – relationships that continue, albeit in different guises today.
At Chwarae Teg, the leading economic development agency for women, the work to challenge stereotypes and promote work life balance (or should it be life work balance?) was fundamental to our vision.
Other useful projects progressed with Trade Union partners and employers regarding the challenges for women juggling caring responsibilities for children and older relatives. I know the work continues today.
That’s some looking back – what about now?
I work with many women in the voluntary sector. Women who volunteer for causes they are passionate about, committed fundraisers, influential campaigners, dedicated committee members. Lots of women work in the sector too, hopefully finding it both rewarding and flexible.
Unfortunately, it is not the same experience for everyone and it is absolutely right that there is determined focus on challenging racism, promoting inclusive work and voluntary opportunities and increasing diversity.
I’m pleased to be involved with the mentoring programme led by the Women’s Equality Network. It has also been good to support the secondment of one of our senior women managers to a leading charity to gain experience of running an organisation. Judith Stone is completing a secondment as Managing Director of Kidney Wales and we look forward to welcoming her back to WCVA and hearing about everything she has learnt.
So what’s next?
We are currently taking part in the Agile Nation 2 programme run by Chwarae Teg so will want to take the learning from this into our EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) action plan.
I really hope that the younger volunteers, staff and trustees involved with WCVA and other voluntary organisations continue to grow in number, gather momentum and that we listen carefully to their views and suggestions.
Global links and connections are also important as so many women and girls across the world do not have access to the rights and opportunities we do in Wales and the UK.
International Women’s Day gives cause to celebrate the role of women in all walks of life and to recognise the work that is still required to promote equality everywhere.
And finally, where does the purple boots reference come in from the title?
As the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, my colleagues and I often discussed what type of boots I had to challenge ageism and stand up for older people’s rights. One International Women’s Day the team presented me with a pair of purple wellies to support our determination to promote equality for older women. As important today as it was then.
There is a final colour that I should mention in addition to white and purple. It is green. These three colours are connected with the Suffragette movement. Purple stood for loyalty and dignity, white for purity and green for hope – and we all need hope, especially at the moment.
I wish everyone committed to equality a good International Women’s Day 2021.
You can find out more about International Women’s Day and how to get involved at: www.internationalwomensday.com.