Every year Changing Lives hold events to mark International Women’s Day – an annual celebration of women’s achievements and a campaign to raise awareness of bias and discrimination. This blog is an abridged version of the speech given by Laura McIntyre, Head of Women’s Services, at the 2020 International Women’s Day celebration in Wolverhampton.

What does equality really mean? We all think we know– everyone being equal in rights and opportunities. But what does this mean in practice? And more importantly – what gets in the way of equality being a genuine, real experience for everyone?

At Changing Lives our ambition is for every woman and girl to feel valued, respected and equal to others. However, many women we support feel completely disconnected from the idea of equality. They do not feel equal, and often feel more vulnerable and at risk because of their gender, based on their personal experiences.  Unresolved trauma can create a sense of fear, a reluctance to trust others and can reduce your sense of self-worth. This is true for many women, not just those we support.

Women tell us that in many situations they feel completely powerless. They have no level of control and feel more like an object than a person. This feeling isn’t limited to abusive situations: it’s also when women come into contact with services and with the criminal justice system. It might sound extreme but we hear the same thing time and again. The good news is, this can change.

Stories from the brave and incredible women we support play a huge part in equality changes. The voices of women have created intense power in law and legislation and these stories become a force like no other. We acknowledge women for everything they bring to our families, businesses, policy, and our emotional health and wellbeing.

But we have to remember: when someone has experienced trauma in childhood and adulthood (be it childhood abuse/neglect, domestic abuse, violence, sexual exploitation, being in prison or being in care) the world can be a very scary place. It’s hard to live up to the ‘strong and capable’ woman messages, when that doesn’t feel like you.

We need to listen to all women and girls, especially those who have experienced trauma – those who may still be facing several different forms of disadvantage. It is precisely these voices that will have the biggest impact, making sure our laws and legislation, our services and support are available to everyone equally.

As a collective group across society we can support women and girls who have experienced serious levels of abuse and trauma by not judging, by deeply listening, and by changing the focus – we should think about the person not the behaviour. Everyone deserves a safe home, a rewarding job and a life free from addiction and abuse – to achieve this we have to make sure every woman and girl is heard.

Using trauma informed and trauma responsive approaches can also help us to understand women and their families, and reject the assumptions that any woman is ‘too complex’ to support. At Changing Lives we believe in the potential of everyone to achieve their personal goals.

My final thoughts and actions for this year’s IWD ‘Each for Equal’ theme is;

  1. Be a positive role model to those around you, don’t dictate and don’t patronise, be a person modelling honest, kind and empathic behaviour whilst always allowing room to challenge when things don’t feel right.
  2. Surround yourself with people you admire, respect and champion, and people who equally respect you for who you are and champion everything about you.
  3. We will never live in a world where there is no judgement (in all the forms it comes in). When the time is right focus more on coping strategies, rather than blaming others and staying angry. Think about how our stories shape us, and to be reminded where our strengths lie. Find containment and focus on the good stuff in life, and the things that make you and others happy.

Changing Lives is a national, registered charity which provides support for thousands of people facing tough times every month. Read more about our specialist services for women.

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