March 4, 2016

Day 868 – International Women’s Day

I spent International Women’s Day in Australia this year, last year I was in Paraguay and the year before that I was in Myanmar. Whilst working in London at Advance, we would get the day off work to celebrate. Typically there are numerous fairs and events to mark this event. A range of speakers and conferences in and around London. I’ve been to various conferences over the years and subsequently been fortunate enough to listen to some great, very moving speeches and accounts from professionals and clients. It really is a day where women and services in the field all come together to mark all that women have achieved and the struggles they continue to experience. Arguably more days should and could be set aside to focus on women’ achievement and accomplishments. Whilst women have come a long way, there is still much work to do before we are viewed and treated as first class citizens.

I have always been passionate about supporting women in particular because they are discriminated against, judged and oppressed in a range of different cultures and communities around the world. Whilst I know I can’t single handily change this, I can be part of a grassroots movement and be part of social activism to eradicate the injustices some women face.  My enthusiasm continues to grow along with my empathy.  This I feel contributed to me getting my current job.  As a women’s health counsellor, I support women in a client-led manner, am non-judgemental and work with them at their pace.  I’ve learnt to stand still enough to absorb the emotional impact of my clients’ experiences which in turns allows the movement hidden beneath the frozen state to emerge as opposed to trying to save women which is not my role. I was a domestic violence advocate for three years in London, working in a crisis intervention manner where no two days were the same and many days were spent running around like a headless chicken. But, yes, I loved it for the most part which is why I stayed for three years. As a counsellor, my days are more structured and generally much calmer. My days are planned and I have women booked in and in turn have regular clients.
I love my job and embrace the challenges it brings. I enjoy supporting and working with my clients. Consequently, I wanted to celebrate their achievements and their stories. I want their accounts acknowledged and remembered. International Women’s Day is more than simply celebrating famous women.  For me it is about focusing on local women and their accomplishments. Very often, these women don’t realise their own strength or talents. So I wanted to dedicate a hall of fame wall display to them. I want their accounts, their strengths and stories to be shared and displayed on the wall. What better way than to have a hall of fame? Thankfully this idea was well received so I was able to collect accounts and take photos of various women which have subsequently been put up on the wall.  Now all those passing through the centre can read and appreciate these women and they too can add to it.

All the women that come to the centre have a story, they have their own life experience and strengths. Some of the women that come to the centre, treat it as a second home, a safe place where they can sit and not be questioned or ridiculed.  Many of them have a low self-esteem because of what they have experienced and been told. Some have forgotten or over looked their own worth. Some bury themselves in supporting everyone around them others seek some control by self-harming themselves. Many have a negative voice in their voice, bringing them down and making them doubt themselves. With all of this going on and more, there is little time for these women to stop and celebrate all the amazing things that they have achieved. For example, giving up alcohol, gaining employment, ending an abusive relationship or moving out. These achievements are huge, life changing moments for the women which deserve recognition and give hope to other women in similar situations. The hall of fame is my attempt of encapsulating women’s achievement and accounts to celebrate and acknowledge how amazing each individual women is. These stories in turn will give hope to others and inspire them to keep going.

Whilst working in this line of work, self-care is terribly important. There is a high level of burn out and feeling run down. So as a worker, we are responsible for ensuring we look after our own emotional well-being. This can mean different things for different people, some work out at the gym, others swim or ride or bike, some do mediation or yoga. Provided there is a self-care plan and it is enforced, there is nothing to worry about. For me, in addition to reading and watching television, I started yoga again. I did yoga back in London so it has been a while but I have missed going to yoga. Both my flatmates, Sam and Elise go to yoga which helps because we encourage each other to keep going. This one hour helps clear my mind and makes me focus solely on my breathing. Physical exercise is great for the body but also for the mind. Sitting down in an office all day does little for the body. I also started walking around the lake, near where I live. I love walking but given the heat in Townsville I tend not to walk a great deal but the cool, evening breeze, is great.

Another element of self -care for me, is watching good movies. So I went to the cinema with Sam and her friend and we watched How to be single. Overall, the movie is really funny and Rebel Wilson does a great job. But the overriding message of this movie for women is, sleep around like men, don’t commit but in the end that is essentially what happens anyway. There is no real celebration of being young, wild and free as a woman. So essentially it could be called how to have fun before committing. We live in a society where being single is not deemed to be a choice or something that is positive. Rather it is something to pity and remedy.  There is nothing wrong with being single and yes I say this as a single women. A relationship status doesn’t define who you are but this appears to be the case for many people. I’m single through choice but sure if I was to meet an amazing man then this may well change. Until then, I celebrate singlehood, independence and more so life and all it has to offer, in all its glory.