By Abi Akerman
The roots of International Women’s Day go as far back as 1908, when women marched through New York City, fighting for a right to vote, a fair wage and shorter working hours. Back then, they may have thought that over 100 years later their work would be done, but the insightful talks at DUCK charities’ first International Women’s Day conference highlighted how some women remain double crossed, not only in terms of chromosomes, but in terms of education and the workplace.
As well as this, the event celebrated the achievements of women across the world and within the university itself. This year’s focus of international women’s day is the #eachforequal campaign, and so many of the speakers chose to concentrate on continued gender inequalities in the fields of education, business and AI.
The first speaker of the day was Rachael Marshall, representing the Dig Deep charity and their Period Pride campaign. The campaign works to educate young girls in Kenya about menstruation and to eradicate taboos around this topic. Her talk highlighted how Kenyan schoolgirls miss out on education. On average 20% of school days are missed, due to embarrassment or lack of access to sanitary products. Their campaign, however, has been incredibly successful in its implementation and is working to improve prospects for girls in Kenya.
From closer to home, Kirsty McDene was next to speak, presenting the work of the Millin Charity in Newcastle, which aims to equip women with business and entrepreneurial skills. One element of her talk that I really enjoyed was the presentation of their B Collective business, incorporating stylistic influences inspired by the cultural heritage of the women involved. As well as this the products are sustainable and locally produced where possible.
The final speaker for the morning was Lucy Kendall, CEO of COCO, an international children’s charity based in Newcastle. Her talk was very much led by the #eachforequal campaign, highlighting COCO’s work towards sustainable education programmes for girls who otherwise miss out due to young marriages, requirement to work, or the aforementioned impact of periods on female attendance in schools.
The afternoon speakers followed with talks about women in politics, computer science, and a history of sex education.
Professor Simon Forrest presented a brief history of sex education, which demonstrated how perception of gender has influenced education on the topic. This was fascinating throughout, but it was particularly interesting to note how these biases feed into modern day education.
This brilliantly complimented Professor Alexandra Cristea’s talk, which outlined her career in STEM, a famously male dominated field. I found her analysis of AI and gender bias being present even in computers fascinating, especially with regards to tailored advertising on Facebook, which has been shown to not only hold a gender bias, but also elements of underlying racism, bringing to light the issues of implicit biases in modern societies feeding into what one might initially regard as nonbiased machines.
Overall, the International Women’s Day Conference was a massive success, incorporating a fantastic range of inspirational speakers, who demonstrated that the feminism movement remains relevant and important in modern society.
Image: DUCK Charities