Each for Equal

Liesle shares her thoughts on International Women’s Day 2020 and how we must work together to make Each for Equal a reality.

“I was out and about again last week but this time at an event very close to my heart as well as my home town. The function was the very first International Women’s’ Day dinner hosted by Teesside University last Thursday and was part of their celebrations for International Women’s Day 2020. The title of the event was Enough is Enough, with the ethos being to empower and encourage teenage girls of Teesside to believe in themselves, and to know that anything is possible.

The team from Teesside University wanted to “bring together like-minded individuals who are passionate about changing the life chances of girls in the Tees Valley. We want to start a conversation about our intent, our vision, our plan”. I am pleased to say the team achieved their aim. From the warm welcome at the beginning of the evening, the fantastic keynote speech by the inspirational Irene Dorner, to the food and the discussions around the table, I personally felt a range of emotions.

Heartbroken, from the words the team had received in feedback from the pilot scheme of linking 100 girls, where the girls felt unheard, unloved and unvalued in a society who should (to be honest) not need to hold such events anymore.

Elated, from the positivity the girls were already feeling from being a part of the events.

Encouraged, that I as an individual can make a difference, which means you can too.

With an RAF and police background preceding my work in the education sector, this year’s IWD theme, Each for Equal, hits very close to home. While a great deal has changed for the better, it saddens me to watch my daughter still fighting against many of the same expectations of women.

For many, the daily battle of what it is to be a young woman in today’s world are compounded by problems in their home environment and school. Teesside bears the generational wounds of a region long neglected, inequalities deeply entrenched. To break the cycle, we must help these young women envision a different future than the one society tells them is theirs.

We must show them that achievement and aspiration can mean a world of different paths, careers, and hopes. It is important that they meet women with a range of backgrounds and careers, demonstrating the myriads of ways possible to achieve. (Most of which won’t come up in standard career guidance at school). We can share with them our individual experiences, all of which create a kaleidoscope of different ways to be a woman.

I have never thought of myself someone to inspire others to achieve. Yet, last year a work colleague nominated me as an Unsung Hero for the Lead 5050 Women in International Education Awards. Being shortlisted, by a panel of people I had never met, made me recognise that self-perception continues to be an untrustworthy guide. I have challenged stereotypes and perceptions about what I’m capable of my entire working life. I have juggled work and study and motherhood. I mentor other women in my team, celebrating their strengths, helping to elevate their voices.

The world around us shapes us from a very young age, and one of the worst pervasive stereotypes is the competitive cattiness of women. The modern #squadgoals of this age are often not any different from the secondary school cliques of old. Adult ‘role-models’ shout about being strong – while tearing other women down. There are too many loud voices in the industries that rule our world stuck on perpetuating damaging ideas of what a woman should be. A good place to start to challenge this is to call out any inappropriate conversations or occurrences where anyone (and I mean anyone) is knocked down instead of being built up.

I would like to see the work surrounding IWD help create choices for young women from all backgrounds. We must show that being nurturing and being strong are not mutually exclusive traits. Compassion and kindness are magic – they grow as you give. The more we can support each other, the stronger we all will be. We can all think of women who have fought battles so that we can stand here, stronger, now. We need to be those women for the ones that follow.”

If you are a local school or business in the Tees Valley area and wish to work with us to help tackle inequality and provide opportunities for disadvantaged young people in the region please get in touch.