#IWD2020 – a reflection on women’s voices

Dunloy Community Playgroup, set up by Angela’s mother (on the right at the back).

To mark International Women’s Day 2020 I wanted to share some thoughts on women’s voices, the power of networks and how our shared work for equality is not finished.

This photo was taken in 1981. My mum is the woman on the far right, with my youngest brother Ciaran on her hip and my other brother, Christopher is in the middle row, second left. I can’t begin to describe the pride I feel when I look at this photo. This is the inaugural group of mums and toddlers at Dunloy Community Playgroup.

Dunloy is a rural village in North Antrim, Northern Ireland where I grew up. Living through the Troubles made an imprint on life there and we lived in the shadow of terrorism and economic deprivation. Much that was positive was built on community life and the work of a multitude of volunteers. My childhood revolved around community groups – Irish Dancing School, choirs, drama clubs and youth groups. It taught me early in life the power of communities in shaping identity and creating a sense of belonging.

My family struggled financially. My dad was a jobbing bus and lorry driver. Often away from home, I know my mum felt lonely at times raising three kids. Unable to find stimulating activities for my brother she started a community playgroup in our village hall – from scratch. Recruiting volunteers, building momentum, securing funding, establishing a committee, defining roles and responsibilities. She was a true leader. Bold, tenacious, uncompromising. Determined about child safety, the value of play and most importantly the power of women helping women to parent and thrive. I think of and honour her bravery today.

When the opportunity of Chief Executive at NCT arose, I immediately reflected on my mum’s influence in those early years. I had seen first-hand the power of volunteering in building communities, creating deeply valued community fabric. I had witnessed the power of women working passionately together to raise children with love and to give them the best opportunities despite their social and economic circumstances.

I’m so proud that today I lead NCT, a charity which has been fighting for women’s rights since 1956. Set up to help women prepare for birth and beyond, it has for decades enabled women to support other women to access knowledge, build networks, raise their voices and campaign for change. We’ve championed women’s rights on birth and motherhood. We contributed to the 2010 Equality Act, which gave women the right to breastfeed in public.

Our #HiddenHalf campaign has enabled thousands of women to share their stories of isolation and postnatal depression, and it called for powerful change.

But our fight is not finished. It’s shocking and sad that for so many women in our country, their maternal care is blighted through social and racial inequality. The MBRRACE-UK report stated that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth. There is so much more to do and I and my passionate colleagues at NCT stand ready to lead, build alliances and speak out for systemic change. On International Women’s Day 2020, I’m proud to have the opportunity to shape the next chapter of the work of NCT, as part of a powerful movement of women for change. Today, I honour my mother and all other brave women to have the courage to stand up and do something small or big to create community and a true sense of belonging.

Read NCT’s response from November 2018 on the MBRRACE-UK report.

Angela first published this blog on LinkedIn 8 March 2020.

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