International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the globe, and to highlight the incredible work that is taking place to achieve gender equality. It’s also a day to reflect on persisting gaps in experiences and to take the opportunity to make a difference as individuals, and as a collective, for all.
This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias and Ambar Ennis, VP Community and Wellbeing at JMSU and Julia Daer, EDI Advisor discuss what this means to them.
For Julia, breaking the bias is about thinking of the barriers that exist for individuals and groups taking into consideration various aspects of their identity, not gender alone:
“We all have a gender, so perceiving gender equality as a women’s issue or as ‘just’ a focus for women is both misleading and ineffective. Breaking the bias means stepping outside of preconceived ideas of what women and men can and should do – ideas which are taught and learnt. The imbalance of men in nursing careers and of women in tech shows us there is still a lot of work to do to create fairer environments.
On top of that, we cannot afford to view gendered issues thinking about gender alone. ‘Intersectionality’ is a term that makes us reflect on how we all experience the world differently, whether we are able-bodied, have a disability, taking into consideration our gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age and so on.
Until we are all free, none of us are free
…is a quote by Emma Lazarus from the 1800s, which is just as applicable today. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and breaking the bias means reflecting on what positive change looks like for different communities. There is some incredible work going on in the institution to affect change for staff and students: from the menopause policy and JMSU’s gynaecology campaign, to the Women Academics’ Network’s Conferment Pathways event, Athena Swan Awards and the recently established Women in Professional Services Network.
We know that gendered ideas of capability and opportunity are socially acquired, and we all have a responsibility to challenge such perceptions. Societal expectations based on gender are harmful and limiting and there is a lot we can do to support one another to create more equitable environments around us.”
Ambar previously held the role of Women’s Officer at JMSU, and she has done a lot of work over the years towards gender equality, particularly with regards to women’s health, access to menstrual products and awareness raising. Ambar wants to see us breaking the bias in relation to gender health equality:
“Despite the progress made in menstrual equity, there is still further to go in gender health equality. A lot of workplaces and institutions cannot see the role they can play in improving menstrual equity and feel the responsibility on them to provide period products is misplaced. When the discomfort organisations feel around period poverty and gynaecological health discussions is allowing menstrual inequity to permeate the workplace, we have to ask why?
"Is it because periods are too gross to talk about? Is it seen to be inappropriate for people who menstruate to bring the discussion out of the toilets and into the office? Is the perceived insanitation of menstrual blood trickling through the broader discussion at hand?
The discomfort of so many when it comes to emancipating periods from under the taboo topics umbrella, plays a hand in the health inequalities that exist for people who menstruate, and there is a connection between awkwardness around gynaecological health and the lack of medical research that goes into better understanding these conditions."
The research gap shows that less than 2.5% of publicly funded research is dedicated solely to reproductive health, despite the fact that one in three women in the UK will suffer from a gynaecological or reproductive health problem. There is five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women.
Gynaecological conditions make it harder to work and to live a balanced life. A survey by Standard Life found that as many as one in six women with endometriosis could be giving up work because of the effects of the condition. There needs to be better support in the workplace that prevents women from leaving their jobs or reducing their income. An improved commitment to supporting people with gynaecological health conditions will help to ensure gender equality in the workplace is maintained.
This IWD, we implore you to get uncomfortable and get to talking gynae – we need to. We deserve to have our health issues researched, investigated, and diagnosed accurately and adequately.
To break the bias we have to start believing women when they are in pain and seeing the value in researching gynaecological conditions. We must break the bias in medical research and dedicate resources to exploring conditions that are debilitating to women and their wellbeing.
We also, as menstruators, have to break our own biases that cause us to dismiss other experiences. We need to support all menstruators going through gynaecological or reproductive health problems, this includes talking more openly with one another and embracing talking about things that we’ve been told to keep behind closed doors, or quite literally wrapped up in tissue.”
There's lots going on this International Women's Day (8 March) across LJMU and JMSU/ and we'd like to invite everyone to get involved. See a host of events happening across the univerity. If you have any questions, please get in touch via: firstname.lastname@example.org