Challenging inequality, sexism and discrimination

By Juliette Astrup on 04 October 2018 RCM Annual Conference

Inspiration abounded when two activists took to the main stage at the RCM conference 2018 to share their views on how we can – and must – challenge inequality, sexism and discrimination around us.

Alice Hood, equalities lead from the TUC, said while 100 years had passed since the dawn of women’s suffrage, many of the issues remain: ‘Ultimately women are seeking freedom from violence and harm, the ability to balance family life and work, decent jobs, equal pay.’

She spoke of the ‘scandal of discrimination against pregnant women’ and the ‘54,000 women forced out of their jobs because they are pregnant or new mums,’ as well as the third of employers ‘who still think it’s ok to ask a woman if she plans to have children or not.’

On gender pay gap reporting she said the union movement wanted to ‘pick that up and push it further’, calling for employers to ‘publish meaningful action plans about what they are going to do to tackle these gaps.’

Renowned activist and writer Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, called for personal responsibility. She said it up was up to individuals to challenge rather than perpetuate societal norms, for example the fact that ‘women are still defined in terms of their relationships with others, while men stand alone’ and ‘the focus on what women look like rather than what they say and do’; the ‘pinkification’ of girls.

‘It’s not the responsibility of others,’ she added. ‘It’s about us taking control in our own lives and in those of the children we give birth to.’

The pair then took questions from the audience covering topics including the upcoming challenges for the trade union movement following Brexit, BME underrepresentation, flexible working in midwifery, and encouraging midwives to be more political.

Contemplating the next 10 years before the centenary universal suffrage Helen added: ‘We all need to be more political in our personal lives, in our sense of self- we can’t give that role to somebody else. Let’s take up the mantle and do something with these ten years – all of us.’

Alice spoke about the ‘inspirational power’ of midwives to ‘positively shape’ women’s lives, adding: ‘Collectively you are an incredibly powerful force and history makers.’