Equalities & diversity stories

Information taken from Women Take Part research

The evidence shows that, even if women do ‘get into’ various governance structures, they still often experience the ‘zapper effect’ or the ‘concrete ceiling’: not feeling equal, frustrated by the way ‘business’ is conducted, feeling knocked back or just not taken into account.

“I am a fairly outspoken person and thought I would be able to change things when I started in a new job. But I was told that I would not get a promotion if I spoke ‘like that’ in meetings etc”.

“You can identify that you are being bullied but you are not always sure or able to prove that this is discrimination. Is it because you are a woman? Is it because you are black? It is not always easy to define or record”

The journey stages…

The journey stagesThe stages are presented as steps in a progressive sequence. However, real life is generally more complex than this, with stops, starts, and movement backwards and forwards. Women will take different routes through the steps and we hope the model will be useful to them in making sense of their own journeys and in seeing the path they took or are taking. We are interested in what is required in order for women to move from step to step and stay ‘at the table’ and be ‘critically engaged’ – in whatever context they find themselves.

“I think the steps are absolutely correct and I can identify with them going back to when I felt unable and lost”.

“In terms of the stages of the model, over time I have made steady progress from stage 1 to stage 2, although I don’t feel that that I have fully met all the indicators within stage 2 that would allow me to move up to the next level.”

“Steps can be interlinked or may overlap. Women may move through the sequence of steps, yet their journey is fluid, at one level they may ‘want things to be improved for themselves, their families and communities and step outside the private domain’, yet they may find they are still partially dominated or held back by the indicators in step 0.”

“Insight in how women get on the voluntary/community involvement ladder”

“How many of ‘my’ issues are shared with other women – and their experiences and learning can help me too”

What promoted you to start your journey?

Initially my desire to attend a course created by women for women was very appealing given that I had worked predominately with women in the community, on a more personal level I wanted to develop professional relationships with other liked minded women who shared a common interest in women’s issues. Other key factors may have included my own personal experiences of the daily injustices faced by women, which are largely ignored by wider society, leaving you feeling voiceless about issues that affect you and women around you. This in turn gives way to feelings of frustration as you are unaware of how you can begin to initiate any form of change for yourself or other women.

Where did you start?

On reflection I believe my journey started when I was 16, having made a conscious choice not to remain in a forced marriage to a man who was my first cousin, and who was 15 years my senior. Leaving the marriage, severing all ties with my immediate family, and seeking refuge in a women’s hostel, has shaped my life over the years. It was at this point in my life where I began to make the transition from having every aspect of my life controlled, to being able to make my own life choices. This is where a deep seated desire to support women who had suffered similar abuses began. Prior to this stage my life had been contained in stage 0, as I believe this served a purpose, not for me, but for those whose belief systems are based on the subjugation and oppression of women, which results in the indicators listed during stage 0.

During this period of my life I had no inclination assert myself educationally or otherwise, as from a young age the blueprint of my life had already been mapped out by my family, without any input from me. I was instilled with the belief that education for me was not a necessary prerequisite to be successful in life, success for women was measured purely on the basis of their domestic skills, and the role that they played out as a daughter, sister, and prospective wife.

What are/have been the significant barriers and how have you/do you deal with them?

Personal experience of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence in adult life – I survived, I escaped and when I could I gained appropriate support for myself
Personal and professional experience of physical and attitudinal barriers as a disabled woman – worked in the field of disability and for a while became a disability equality trainer, ongoing challenges
Personal and professional experience of attitudinal barriers of being a woman and being a lesbian – on going challenges

The barriers for me has been community leaders (mainly men) who do not want women to get together and work together they are often suspicious because they feel ‘they do not have control’ how I overcame this is started talking to community leaders and other senior figures on board because even though we know they want to block our work we still want to educate their wifes, sisters, children etc… and the only way to do that is by proving a service for them and women so they do not feel excluded. This has worked for the community I work with but has been a struggle and a LONG process. Lucky I was working with some inspirational women who had determination and will power to continue.

My insecurity was a barrier – slowly rebuilt my sense of self (not quite there yet)
Partners – constant challenge trying to balance ‘not being selfish’ with fulfilling my ‘needs’.
Children – they have been a barrier but also opened doors. However, there is always a mismatch between their needs and mine and theirs come first mostly, which is what I choose and the way I want it to be, but it is a barrier to me doing things which would get me there faster!