SDG 5 – Gender Equality and International Women’s Day 2020

Rebecca Woodcock, BA Politics at Newcastle University

As the GCA’s week of focusing on gender equality comes to a close, it’s great to look back on the events our interns and staff at Newcastle University have been involved with in the fight for SDG 5.

First, Elle, one of our interns and PhD student researching adolescent girls’ empowerment through citizen scientist afterschool clubs, attended COCO’s #EachforEqual event at Newcastle Business School. The event explored COCO’s aims and missions towards achieving gender equality, voices from local entrepreneurs supporting BAME communities and speakers challenging gender bias in the workplace and the taboo of menopause. The event notably celebrated women from all backgrounds, cultures and locations as we strive for gender equality in our region and beyond. Some of the stand out quotes were as follows:

Salha Kaitesi, who works with Teakisi, an online platform creating a space for African women to empower and celebrate each other, stated that ‘representation is empowering communities’ when talking about the experiences BAME communities face in society. Salha went on to discuss the inequalities that African women and WOC face in society, such as the persistent racial inequalities in the labour market, education, home ownership and employment in the public sector.

Naz Demir expressed that ‘what matters to me is who I am, what I can achieve and how I can make a difference’ whilst discussing gender inequalities in employment along with the discrimination she has faced when applying to jobs in the region.

Elle also went along to Being Woman’s ‘Gender Equity’ event in Ashington. This was a conversational panel workshop with women from Pakistan, Iran, El Salvador, Russia, Nigeria, The Gambia amongst many more. This workshop explored topics of: gender equality, gender attitudes in society, experiences of BAME communities in Ashington, forced marriage, mental health taboo, honour killings, gender pay gap and gender division in employment. The women in this workshop were passionate about their experiences, and described themselves as loyal, emphatic, powerful, creative, and strong. Elle says it was extremely motivating and encouraging to see groups of marginalised women standing up for themselves.

Fareeha Usman, the founder of Being Woman stated:

“Gender sensitivity is not about comparing girls to boys. On the contrary, any education that is gender sensitive, benefits members of both sexes. It helps them determine which assumptions in matters of gender are valid and which are stereotyped generalisations. Gender awareness opens up the widest possible range of life options for both women and men and builds their capacities to be more wholesome and humane. We should allow boys to express their emotions, encourage them to be expressive. We need to expose girls to role models of women in business, especially those outside the stereotype, like lady doctors, lady scientists and women in tech. These role models will help girls to see themselves in professions outside the normal stereotypes.  We must encourage girls to find answers on their own; and express confidence in their abilities so that they develop self-confidence”

Along with the activities our interns have been involved with, there has also been some events and research conducted by university staff, showing why Newcastle University is a great place to work on the #SustainableDevelopmentGoals. Professor Karen Ross is a professor of gender and media. Her research focuses on the relationship between these two topics, particularly emphasising relations between female politicians and journalists.

Professor Ross’s work has led her to become the PI for an EU-funded project between 2017 and 2019 which sought to enhance gender equality in media industries, along with work involving engaging older women to create images of themselves which ‘confound normative social expectations of older age’. See here for more information on Professor Ross’s research.

In April 2019, Professor Ross travelled to Delhi to talk to women who are empowering themselves through training, employment and establishing micro-businesses. The Global Challenges Academy provided funding for this trip and enabled Karen and many others to become a cross-cultural researcher, vital in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Without the global challenges research fund, there would have been diminished opportunity to develop the network of researchers working on issues relevant to women in development. Karen used her smartphone to interview women in Delhi and create films out of their experiences, to then suggest that with some training they too could utilise mobile technology as a tool for developing their businesses.

Although she ran into some issues during her visit, one of Professor Ross’s most valuable assets was a former MA student she had taught the year previously, Priyanshi. Priyanshi, as an Indian woman herself, offered knowledge of the communities alongside being professional, dynamic and possessing superb people skills, all combining to allow her to become brilliantly relatable to the women interviewed and an extremely important member of the team. Although Priyanshi was no longer one of Karen’s students, it goes to show that studying at Newcastle truly allows you to be part of a community for the rest of your life and get the opportunity to be involved in ground-breaking research.

Professor Ross’s work with older women led to the founding of the JOY project, which she says ‘came out of a growing exasperation with popular culture and especially advertising’s messages that ageing for women is a process we should try to halt or at least mask’. It was created with a group of women who told of their experiences through moments, days and lifetimes of joy.

On International Women’s Day 2020, Professor Ross ran a private exhibition portraying media pieces such as photographic portraits and short films showing what it is to be a woman. She also ran a pop-up choir at Grey’s Monument who sang on the themes of women’s sanctuary and safety.

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