Prior the coronavirus pandemic, charities and organisations across the globe were vocal in their celebrations for International Women’s Day 2020. The theme, #EachForEqual, raises many questions about how we can bridge the gender gap which persists in many societies.
As we take some time in this lockdown to consider what is really important to us on a personal level, it can also provide the opportunity to expand our horizons and delve into issues that seem a world away. What better way to re-enter society after this is all over?
Last month, charity COCO hosted their #EachForEqual International Women’s Day event at Newcastle University Business School, which celebrated women of all backgrounds and cultures as they strive for gender equality. They welcomed a range of key speakers, including Sharon MacArthur, Salha Kaitesi, Naz Demir and Jess Whitaker who touched on topics from Menopause to business to changing women’s narratives.
The event provided a platform for local charities and female-run businesses to network and showcase their services. The women took to the stage and shared why their businesses were crucial to advancing gender equality in different parts of the world.
COCO itself is one of these charities working towards gender equality as they believe every child should have access to quality education – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or economic circumstances. Their goal is to provide education and to create the opportunity for children to break the cycle of poverty.
COCO’s Partnerships Manager, Jess Whitaker, shared more about what the charity does. In her talk, she said: “I have an amazing part of my job which is to go and speak to these women and hear their stories. My job today is to tell you some of their stories as they can’t be here today to tell them themselves.”
Following the event, Jess added: “This event is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the incredible women and girls in East Africa. They are breaking barriers to reduce gender inequality and working to reduce the societal and cultural limitations put on individuals because of their gender. This year we shared stories of educators, activists, businesswomen, students and mothers who are changing the story and showing the potential and power of being a woman. They are raising awareness of the similar and different issues that women face across the world, and how we can work together to overcome them.”Jess Whitaker
The talks extended to a multitude of topics surrounding bettering women’s position in society. Sharon MacArthur spoke about her project Miss Menopause, which she set up to get the conversation flowing around a topic that has remained taboo for years. Sharon educates HR professionals, managers and working women about the menopause in an interactive environment.
Sharon said: “75% stands for the amount of women who turn up for work during menopause even when they don’t feel like it. The shocking thing is they don’t even know it’s the menopause. That’s why Miss Menopause exists. I go into organisations and talk men to men, to women about menopause and what it means.”Sharon MacArthur
Social entrepreneur and blogger Salha Kaitesi also spoke about her projects Beauty of Rwanda, a social enterprise set up to economically empower women and girls, as well as Teakesi. Teakesi is a digital platform creating a space for African women to empower and celebrate each other, uniting through their stories. Salha spoke more about why it is crucial to change the narrative about the African woman.
She said: “Speaking as an African woman, I would like to tell you that the negative, single story of the African woman has to stop. The single story is dangerous, it destroys lives, it hinders development and it denies the world of talented and skilled people. The single story deprives us of our people and our history. Being given a voice to tell our stories matter.”Salha Kaitesi
These words were echoed by Wambui Hardcastle‘s earlier performance of her poem “Mayonnaise Girl”, which kickstarted the event and set the tone for change. Her final words spoke back to a society that has been slow in accepting who she is: “But I don’t want to wait for soon. I don’t want to be a mayonnaise girl that grows into a mayonnaise woman. I want to shine.”
The International Trade Manager for the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Naz Demir, also spoke about the personal challenges she has faced as a business woman.
She said: “I’m going to speak about myself because it’s important that people understand that you can be successful, even if you come from a different background. You can reach quite high places and you can be really successful. It’s not just about our colour, or accent, or ethnicity. It’s about how you see yourself in society.”Naz Demir
The event was organised by the Operations Manager for COCO, Holly Nelson. She wanted to not only celebrate the achievements of COCO, but also to open the floor to other women striving towards success.
She said: “Hosting an International Women’s Day event is important to us for a few reasons, not least of which is the opportunity to showcase some of the fantastic women we partner with in East Africa. For me, I absolutely relish the opportunity to bring together individuals and organisations in the North East all for the purpose of making our region the best it can be for women (and everyone!).”Holly Nelson
Whilst it can be easy to confine #EachForEqual to a certain society, or to a certain area like “business”, it was clear that the intentions of the event were to consider the many aspects of gender inequality that are yet to be eradicated. COCO’s event created a respectful environment which sung of women supporting women.
Holly Nelson said: “We truly believe that there is enough support out there for all of us to thrive together, so we love to support local organisations. We also love hearing about the connections that are made at our events, and collaborations that happen down the line all because people had a chat over a glass of wine at a COCO event”.Holly Nelson
Once the talks were finished, everyone was invited to grab a glass of wine, move out of their comfort zone and speak to someone new. Other business stalls from the North East also lined the walls of the room, happy to exchange contact details and business cards.
COCO’s motto is: “Listen. Learn. Sustain“. Whilst this may be specific to their organisation, the event emanated these very values. Perhaps there is no better time than now for us to practice this – after all, we could all learn something new if we truly listened with an open heart.