Break the Bias

This International Women’s Day you cannot help but think about the women in Ukraine, fighting for their country, and families, in any way that they can.

The pictures that have reached us over the last few weeks of women making Molotov cocktails, holding guns, patrolling alongside men, protecting their country and cities cannot have failed to shock.  But its also the women who are fleeing with their children, while men are left behind.  I cannot even begin to imagine the conversations being had in households right across Ukraine about whether to stay or leave, with both options incredibly dangerous and uncertain.

I have also been reflecting on my own journey and how being a women has both help and hindered me in my career and life.  I was talking last week to a young women who was just thinking about starting out on a life in politics and asked me about work life balance, and how to be a mum, and a politician.  I was also doing a training session for some wannabe local councillors and they asked me how to achieve a work life balance as a local councillor.  I told them to forget it, and if they wanted a work life balance then don’t even think about standing for elected office.

I am standing down as a local councillor this May, having come to work with Logos.  It was not an easy decision as we need many, many more (youngish) women in local government to speak up for women and women’s issues, which should be everyones issues.

I was asking my children if I had been a rubbish mum over the last four years, to which they replied pretty much yes, but they went on to say that I had been a brilliant councillor and they were really proud of me, so that was okay.  They have both learnt how to cook and use the washing machine, which is no bad thing.

When I was first elected my local paper ran a story about me becoming a councillor and the first female leader of my local council.  I spoke to the journalist who had written it and he told me that the piece he submitted started off listing my career experience as chief exec of a large health charity and local charity worker.  The editor changed it to read “Shona Haslam, 42, mother of two, elected.”  The same local paper refers to my male colleagues as “councillor” and me as “Mrs”.  I regularly tackle them on this issue but apparently it is “house style”.  Yep I have no idea what that means either!

When we talk about International Womens Day we naturally reflect on our own experiences and thoughts, but we cannot help, this year, to turn our attention further afield.  The challenges that I have faced are nothing compared to women in Ukraine today.  They are being forced to make impossible choices, or taking up arms or fleeing.  Never could we ever have imagined that we could face this choice.

I asked my youngest the other day whether he could ever imagine me sitting in the town square making Molotov cocktails.  “To be fair mum, yes I can” he replied which made me smile.  Oh that my child sees me with the same courage as those women.  I am proud to stand with my sisters in Ukraine today, and proud to be a woman, in an age when women are destroying pre conceived ideas of what we can do or what we can achieve.  In my little corner I have done a bit, but I salute those women who are doing so much more and in far more dangerous circumstances than I will ever encounter.