Empowering women – International Women’s Day

international women's day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, 8th March 2015, was celebrated as International Women’s Day around the world. While the day has a history (or herstory) of over one hundred years, yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the date being claimed for this celebration by the United Nations and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

 “The Platform for Action covers 12 critical areas of concern that are as relevant today as 20 years ago: poverty; education and training; health; violence; armed conflict; economy; power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms; human rights; media; environment; and the girl child.”

The Secretary-General of the United Nations concludes the foreword to the 2015 paper with these words:

When-we-empower-women

The paper states that

 “Nearly 20 years after the adoption of the Platform for Action, no country has achieved equality for women and girls and significant levels of inequality between women and men persist.”

 This article in Time Magazine recognises that, while some gains have been made, there is still much more to be done to eliminate inequality. It repeats the call to action made by the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka:

In line with the general achievements that have been made towards gender equality, and the gaps that still exist, is the situation for girls in schools, especially with regard to maths and science education. While more girls are moving into those areas than did when I was at school, there are still not enough.

Ainissa Ramirez, who describes herself as a “Science Evangelist” says in her article Girls and Science: A Dream Deferred, that it is important to nurture girls’ interest in science and maths.

She says that “the data . . . shows that the difference among graduates is not due to girls’ ability to do math and science; instead, the gender gap is caused by attitudes and behaviors toward girls and women, especially in the classroom.”

This article by Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times reinforces this, saying that the attitude of elementary teachers is even more influential that attitudes in the home. Miller says that

“Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying.”

This article by Sue Wilson cites research confirming the bias of teachers against girls showing that boys often received higher marks than did girls of equal ability. While the girls were discouraged from continuing their studies of maths and science subjects, the boys (whose teachers had over-assessed their ability) went on to be successful in those subjects.

For the past three years during which time I have been writing science curriculum documents, I have had the extreme good fortune of working with one of Australia’s top science teachers. In fact Deb Smith has won many awards for her science teaching including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools in 2010. Throughout her career Deb has been an advocate for girls in science and has encouraged many girls, who otherwise would not have, to pursue careers in science.

I haven’t yet considered whether Marnie, a character I have been developing through my flash fiction stories, would have, let alone pursue, an interest in maths and science subjects. I think it would be all she could do to survive.  You see, Marnie’s childhood had little to recommend it: a dysfunctional family in which she suffered neglect and abuse, and difficulties at school and with friendships as a result. However a teacher like Deb Smith or Ainissa Ramirez could make a difference to her engagement with those subjects. Marnie was fortunate that a teacher saw in her something special and provided support and guidance at a time that was crucial to her survival.

This week, in response to the prompting by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) color your story turquoise, I take Marnie one step closer to empowerment. Charli says that turquoise blue evokes trust and strength. I have also heard that it signifies protection, friendship and peace. What wonderful qualities to aspire to for Marnie, and for all women. Coincidentally, it is my favourite colour.

Here is my flash fiction response to Charli’s challenge, with a Marnie who has found a new inner strength and sense of peace, and recalls the trust that was given in friendship along with a charm for protection.

I hope you enjoy it.

turquoie necklace

Turquoise dreaming

Marnie paused at the gate. The house looked the same: roses by the steps, bell by the door, windows open and curtains tied back; just as she remembered.

She shuddered as the memory of her last visit flashed momentarily: she was running, almost blinded by tears, stumbling with fear, up the steps, to the open door and open heart. She rubbed the turquoise pendant Miss had given her then, for “protection and peace”. She had worn it always.

Now, Marnie walked the path with an unfamiliar lightness. It was over. Really over!

She knocked at the door.

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post and flash fiction.

 

34 thoughts on “Empowering women – International Women’s Day

  1. Pingback: Making choices | Norah Colvin

  2. Sherri

    Beautifully written and touching flash Norah, love how you truly painted your story with the colour turquoise, in more ways than one, very creative that 🙂 So glad Marnie was able to take that all important step. I could say so much about gender roles here. My daughter feels so strongly about this, as a female with Asperger’s. She finds stereotyping females into their expected roles as something akin to the devil’s work. A lot of this is caused too by the fact that she believes her father is a mysogynist. Again, I could write reams, but won’t, for now anyway. She questions why can’t girls do things like electronics and woodwork and more science in schools? Why must a girl be labelled as weird or worse if they prefer these things over cooking, sewing and learning how to do hair and makeup? I agree. When I was growing up, everyone said about my younger brother (only by 18 months) ‘oh he’ll go far that boy’. About me? ‘Isn’t she a pretty little thing, like a doll!’. Grrrrrrrrr…..
    Thank you Norah, as always for your excellently researched post. You amaze me with all the great articles and links you provide for us 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sherri, Thank you very much for your very kind words. I’m pleased you enjoy reading the material that I write and link to, especially. I love finding material that supports, extends, and even challenges my views. I’m the first to admit that there is much I don’t know and much left to learn. It is what makes life interesting after all. It would be dreadful, I think, to imagine I “knew it all”, with nothing left to discover. How boring would that be?!
      I was very interested to hear about your daughter’s passion for girls’ rights and girl power. Bravo! We all need strong voices like hers. I wonder how much of an impact on this strength is the view of her father as a misogynist. You must be very proud of her ability to see through that and to find her own strength. Of course, she has a very gentle, but strong, female role model in her mother. 🙂
      The attitudes expressed to (about) you and your brother as you were growing up are deeply ingrained in our society. We really need to work hard to change them. My son and his partner are doing their best to avoid that occurring with their children, my very gorgeous grandson and granddaughter, and they would love to hear their little girl expressing the same dissatisfaction with stereotypes as your daughter does. A few years ago there was a great slogan “Girls can do anything!”, which is a good one I think. It’s not to say that boys can’t, but that girls have been denied the opportunities for so long, that the reigning status quo “girls can’t” needs to change.
      How old is your daughter, Sherri? 🙂

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      1. Sherri

        Oh Norah, you have so much insight. I could talk with you all day about so many things, and reading your reply now, I am nodding furiously in agreement with all you say. My daughter is 22 and lives with me and hubby, her stepdad. She recently emailed me (which she does when she has something important to express) telling me how much she appreciates me! And when I read your words about being a good role model, well, you have made my day as so often I wonder about that, seriously, because I am so aware of my shortcomings, when I overreact to things, get stressed, get overwhelmed. But we are all only human!! And I am so very proud of my daughter, absolutely 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind words Norah, and I smile as I think of your beautiful grandchildren and their wonderful parents. The world is changing, albeit slowly, and, as we’ve said a few times, it certainly does begin in the home 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you, Sherri. I thought you were talking about me! I try to be a good role model, but so many times I fall and scrape my knees. My children are wonderful teachers though. I have learned more about positive relationships from them and their dad (we’ve been together a long time now) than from anyone else. Fortunately they are forgiving when I make a mistake,as I regularly do. Unconditional love is an amazing thing! Thanks for sharing your warmth. 🙂

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  3. Annecdotist

    Enjoyed your post and comments, Norah. I’m late in adding my voice to the mix as we’ve been away for a couple of days, fittingly to Cambridge, famous for its university. When they established the first college for women it had to be out of town and, despite studying the same material as the men, and taking the exams, women were not awarded degrees until 1948. (So we’ve moved on a little.) Happily, I have my husband to thank for this factoid, as I don’t easily keep such details in my head, probably more accurately don’t easily get them out again. Signal for a female stereotype? I don’t think so, just different people being drawn to different things.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Anne. You are always welcome what ever the time!
      That is an interesting factoid you have added and, as you say, thankfully we have moved on since then.
      I hope you enjoyed the weekend. Did you study at Cambridge for any of your degrees?
      What you have said about not getting the facts out, rather than them going in, reminds me of something I heard in my current audiobook: the idea that we squirrel away in memory (whether retrievable or not) everything we ever experience (hear, see, etc) is a myth. Female or not. I admit I am more drawn to ideas and relationships than facts. Or is that just an excuse for being no help on a trivia team? 🙂

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      1. Annecdotist

        Oh, no, I never even considered applying to Oxford or Cambridge universities and, pretty as the towns are with the beautiful old colleges, I don’t think I’d have thrived in that environment.
        I’m not really up-to-date with the thinking of how memory works, but in my student days we learnt about the difference between long-term and short-term memory (the latter being in terms of minutes, rather than days, as people often assume) and that if it gets as far as long-term memory it stays there (but may not be retrievable) but some experiences don’t get that far.

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        1. Norah Post author

          I think that sounds like a pretty good summation of long-term and short-term memory, Anne. I am listening to an interesting book at the moment by Daniel T. Willingham entitled “Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about How the Mind Works”. He has some good points to make about ways of learning and committing information to memory, including retrieval. I may try to summarize some points in a post one day. 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Tales of Turquoise « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. Charli Mills

    Astounding to think that we still have to battle these inequities even in the classroom. As Geoff said, casual conversation can continue to perpetrate these negative myths. A boy hearing praise based on his gender will unfortunately develop a bias just a a girl who is not encouraged because of her gender will believe she can’t. Every step forward, every encouragement of individual students not based on gender and every casual conversation holds power for the future. For all of us.

    Marnie has stepped into feeling safe and we gain insight to the gift that Miss gave her — a necklace that came with much needed words, and belief that they were possible. Marnie is just now believing in those words…yet, she is at the door. What next for our heroine?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment and adding to the conversation Charli. It is true how entrenched is our sexist and gender defining language. I read a really good article about making our language gender neutral on the Conversation on the weekend. Here is a link: http://goo.gl/RAEgJb I am editing a book I am writing about teaching reading at the moment and will endeavor to adjust my language appropriately.
      I am looking forward to discovering more about Marnie. There is still a lot I don’t know. I’m waiting for the prompts to draw it out! 🙂

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      1. Charli Mills

        It’s fun to be on this path of discovery with you (and Marnie). Thank you for the link. It’s a great article and I like all the examples of how to shift t gender neutrality. I talk about “mastering” craft a lot and had not given it a second thought about it being a gender loaded word! Can you think of a better word for that? “Become an expert” or become proficient” but I can’t think of a word that replaces mastering something.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks, Charli. Mastering is interesting. I probably wouldn’t have thought of it either – how entrenched that language is! I can’t think of an exact substitute, though learning a craft might do it in some circumstances. Perhaps learning a craft and becoming proficient would show ‘mastering’ and’mastery”. We’ll have to work on it until we overcome the problem! 🙂

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  6. Sacha Black

    Love your flash :). Interesting thoughts on maths and science. Its true of the workplace as well as the classroom. My wife works in a college (16-18 yrs) in the construction unit, she is the only female teaching staff… sigh one day…. one day we will be equal

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Christy. That’s very kind. It was lovely. We had a day together: three generations with an even spread of male and female in each., including my daughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. I think that was a pretty good way to spend it!
      I hope yours was good too. 🙂

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  7. TanGental

    Right, first up a lovely flash – the evocation of memory, the chil transmuting to hope is well presented. You are good at this! Then the substance. I’m glad I live in a world where progress is being made, where the issue is aired and debated. I shudder to think of times when no one even gave it a thought, never even thought it relevant. But these sorts of inequalities make me seethe – the waste alone, leaving aside the impact on individual lives. An example. On my skiing trip I meet someone Friend if friend. He asked about my family. When I mentioned my daughter vet in training he volunteered how he had a friend, ran a national vet business and despaired at the number of women qualifying as vets because in his experience they couldn’t cope with the pressures of the job. Not some physical issue but emotional. As I listened to this nonsense I wondered at the perpetuation of such crap. Of course I’m getting this second hand but I’ve no reason not to believe Andy accurately reported what he’d heard. Two well educated men casually reinforcing negatives without considering, if true, why women left the employ of this man? I’m afraid I wasn’t very polite and hinted at the latent misogyny in this. It is true that the population of British vet schools is distorted – 90% are women – which is an issue. No profession benefits from this imbalance but unstatistical bollocks from a leading practitioner does nothing to help this.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks very much for your wonderful comment, Geoff. I can always rely on you to expand on what I offer.
      Firstly thank you for your comment on my flash. I’m pleased the transition from one emotion to another worked.
      And thank you for making it clear that you don’t accept the misogyny that was so blatantly shared with you, in expectation of your agreement no doubt. Fortunately you have moved further up the ladder to equality than those to whom you referred.
      It’s an interesting statistic that 90% of students in vet schools in Britain are women. I wonder why the imbalance. It would make an interesting study to see why women are choosing the role and why men aren’t. I have a few hypotheses in mind, but hopefully they would be way off the mark so I won’t mention them as I would be unable to investigate and discover the truth. Maybe your Vet has some ideas?

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      1. TanGental

        Stereotypically girls like animals early – the sort of my little pony mindset, not that that applies to the Vet. She’s like her dad with a general distrust of horses. Then girls are maturing earlier so have the organisation to sort out the crazy amounts of work experience you need even to get an interview. And then there are the academic statistics that show girls still do better than boys at 17/18 when the exams are taken. So even though the subjects they take are like doctors all sciences, thus knocking back the idea that girls don’t succeed at the sciences, the girls are getting the highest grades. And vet school is the most difficult to get into of all the degrees going. So you need the top marks. That is some of the reason. The schools are leaning over to get boys in but so far it isn’t working. They seem to gravitate to the easier degrees of medicine and dentistry! Ho ho!

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        1. Norah Post author

          Hi Geoff, Thanks for adding your thoughts and clarification as to the gender imbalance in vet schools in Britain. You have raised some interesting points. I’m sure the Vet agrees with you about veterinary studies being more difficult. After all they do have to know about a great variety of species. Doctors only have to know one – and dentists just the teeth! 🙂 This imbalance does skew the contention that girls don’t succeed at science a little, but I did notice in some of the research that Britain is showing good results for girls in that area. Long may it continue! And best wishes to the Vet for her studies. 🙂

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  8. Bec

    Hi Nor, thanks for a great article and FF. As you’ve discussed before, there’s always so much going on below the surface. Any passer-by may have just seen a person gazing at a house, but of course your FF tells us there is so much more going on underneath for Marine. What a good ambassador she is for helping us to remember that everyone has their own story.

    Thanks for discussing international women’s day, too – an issue which certainly can do with support after our federal government held their official celebration in a men’s only club. Gobsmacking!

    Here are a couple of other links which I find inspiring, as with your writing:

    An article by my friend Ingrid who now works for the IUCN in Laos: https://portals.iucn.org/blog/2015/03/05/pipe-dream-women-khammouane-villages-eagerly-await-water-improvements/

    A group who are promoting careers in technology for girls: http://www.techgirlsmovement.org/

    Liked by 5 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, Thanks for your comment. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash.
      Thanks for the links too. I don’t think I know your friend Ingrid, but the project she writes about is amazing. It is difficult for us to comprehend, from our lives of luxury of which we so freely complain, the difficulties experienced by others to simply survive. Thank you for linking.
      And from a completely different perspective, to the tech girls. I know you have mentioned it to me before, but I needed the reminder to take a look. Thanks. 🙂

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