Celebrating International Women's Day

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

In coordination with many others around the world, Arhag is proud to be marking International Women’s Day today.

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Arhag’s Board Chair, Reena Purchase, reflects on the importance of IWD.

International Women’s Day is a really important event as it focuses on the achievements of women throughout the world. Although we make up 50% of the population, we rarely receive 50% of the publicity, so IWD enables us to celebrate womanhood.

I have worked in the social housing and charitable sector for over thirty years, working with those from marginalised communities and very often supporting women to gain employment or new skills. I have taken a step back from full-time work after completing an MSc in Mindfulness-based approaches. I now provide training, mentoring and coaching to people from marginalised communities alongside my role as the Chair of Arhag.

Throughout my career, I was all too often one of the only women and certainly one of the only Asian women seen in a leadership role. This was really important to me and provided a great sense of responsibility to support those who have followed me by providing a supportive example. Unfortunately, change is happening very slowly and that is one of the reasons that I have signed up to the NHF’s Chairs Challenge to EDI. I too have experienced forms of direct and indirect discrimination. On one occasion I was mistaken for the cloakroom attendant as I happened to be standing there, when in fact I was one of the keynote speakers. I have also been underestimated because many people have a stereotypical view of Asian women as being meek and mild. Whilst my personal style is reasonably reserved, I have a very strong sense of personal values that I hold dear and that steer my course. After a recent tough negotiations a colleague told me that they must remember never to get on the wrong side of me.

My role models are women who had a strong sense of identity and integrity. Jayaben Desai was one of the leaders of the Grunwick strike in the 1970’s. She was underestimated because she was a small, Asian women in a sari but she had the nerves of steel. Arundhati Roy, the author and activist has consistently supported the rights of marginalised groups including indigenous communities who are at risk. Finally, a seminal book for me was “Finding a voice” by Amrit Wilson that established a new discourse on Asian women’s lives in the late 1970’s. This also led to the establishment of charities like Southall Black Sisters that promote solidarity amongst all women of colour and continue to provide support to the most marginalised women today.