Thursday, 8 March 2012
International Women's Day
Over the last 20 years, I’ve always been able to celebrate International Women’s day on my birthday. It has a deep significance for me. It lies at the heart of my ‘advantaged thinking’ beliefs. On International Women’s day, I’ve been able to stand with others challenging the institutions and belief systems that divide and discriminate along binary oppositions. In other words, most birthdays, I’ve spent my time with some remarkable people; enlightened spirits who accepted you as whoever you wanted to be - as long as you were authentic, prepared to challenge the world around you, and understood the basic principles of equality. I learnt that the boundaries of human identity were much more fluid and liberating than the sexual biology we are fobbed off at school with. I learnt that the worst thing you could ever say was, ‘I just want the world to accept me as normal,’ in a world where normal is often the status quo's best form of control.
This year is the first I’ve ever been technically excluded from an International Women’s day event. I could say it didn’t matter – I had planned to be at a conference anyway, so I could talk about ‘advantaged thinking’ in the context of Sheila McKechnie – but the people I’ve grown up with, the ones who always sought to celebrate the day with me, who still fight against the segregation of toilets and the ignorance against trans-identity, would I know feel bitterly let down if I didn’t say something.
So I’m using today to celebrate the courage of the woman who helped establish the foyer concept in the UK back in the 1990’s as a means to provide social justice for young people; and to remember those around the world, of whatever denomination of male/female identity, who are told that they are not welcome.
Inclusion, after all, is one of the key values of the organisation I work for.
I am lucky enough that I can be invited to an event, the CIH South Eastern conference in Brighton, and stand on a stage to mark, in a very small way, what is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s day. However far the role of women in society has travelled, you only have to look at the institutions of power in this country, representation in the media, and the situation of too many women around the world, to realise how far we have to go. How much more we need to do. But it starts with the simple things: whether you see people as individuals, or whether you discriminate them by a biological marker.
I hope Sheila McKechnie would have enjoyed my presentation today about the need to challenge the status quo, the need to use our advantages in the housing sector to transform the system. 1 in 5 young people unemployed is a shameful statistic of our age, a sign that we have we learnt little as a society since the 1 in 10 if the 1980s. I’m sure she would have talked about that too, with even more passion than I could muster.
I suppose I’m thankful to be reminded what some people must feel like every day: not wanted because of who someone thinks you are. When someone discriminates against you, the advantaged thinker focuses not on the person, but the cause and the challenge to change. International woman’s day is something to celebrate, as well as a call to arms.