- Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do – whatever practicalities you’re willing to share with readers. Could be your inspiration for the line of career or journey as a woman in a world dominated by men.
I would describe myself as a political activist with a specific interest in issues surrounding social justice, and in particular women and our struggle for equality.
My life experience has definitely shaped my thinking and the work I do within the Social Enterprise sector. I’m a very proud Glaswegian, originally from Drumchapel. Drumchapel was one of the “big four” post war poorly designed and built social housing schemes along with Easterhouse, Castlemilk and Greater Pollock. Built to rehouse people from the decaying inner city areas as part of the “slum clearances”. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was able to understand that I had grew up in poverty in an area that had endemic and well known social problems. Life expectancy in Glasgow is 7 years below the national average but where I’m from it is 12 years below, which is a national disgrace.
My upbringing and personal experiences have meant that I have a strong sense of social injustice and gender inequality, so through my work in Social Enterprise I’m doing my best to play a small part in tackling this huge problem.
Over the last decade I have established and managed various innovative social enterprise projects, and for the past 5 years I have been part of the small team at Cre8te Opportunities, a Social Enterprise and Local Enterprise Agency based in the Craigmillar area of Edinburgh.
I am responsible for Cre8te’s Business Incubator Project (CBIP) which provides specialist advice, support and training to marginalised individuals and groups looking to explore self-employment and start up in business. We have tailored this project using a community development approach to the specific needs of the individuals and groups that we work with, the vast majority of whom require additional support to start-up.
Basically the project uses enterprise and self-employment as a vehicle for the alleviation of poverty and inequality in areas where worklessness is endemic and there are intense social and economic problems.
The project has successfully demonstrated a model of enterprise development, which not only actively targets and meets the needs of those most disadvantaged in our local communities but, creates employment through business creation where unemployment is high and tackling worklessness must remain a high priority. The project has always been committed to work within hard pressed communities with those furthest from the labour market in Edinburgh, and this sets it apart from any other business support service.
98% of the people the project works with are unemployed (predominately long-term unemployed) and have other barriers to employment such as mental health issues, addictions, disabilities, offending backgrounds, involved in the sex industry, carers and single parents, and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
More recently I have established a new Women’s Project for Cre8te which has a specific focus on violence against women. The amazing women we work with have been involved from the very start in helping to shape the project and set the strategic direction, and I’m delighted with the progress that we have made in a short space of time. The project has had a particular focus on women involved in or affected by commercial sexual exploitation and the sex industry and provides a range of one to one and group training and development opportunities. Cre8te traditionally has been able to reach out and engage with individuals and groups who find mainstream services psychologically daunting and in this respect our latest project is no different.
2) What is an accomplishment that you are proud of? Why are you proud of this particular accomplishment?
Since joining Cre8te, I have supported over 250 businesses to start and sustain, half of those businesses are female led, 40% are single parents and 35% are women from an ethnic minority background. Those figures in themselves make all of us here at Cre8te extremely proud, but for me it’s about the individual stories and feeling privileged to play a part in someone’s journey whilst they make significant and positive changes to their life.
Many of the women we work with suffer chronic exclusion from society and are extremely marginalised, they experience a syndemic where the multiplier of social problems (poverty, violence, homelesseness, poor education, health problems, housing problems, crime, lack of social support, and other adverse life events) combine to create a negative impact on their life.
Most of the women we work with have very little or no aspiration and have feelings of worthlessness, all have spoken about long term health conditions such as anxiety, depression, substance misuse, severe forms of PTSD and trauma. These can cause difficulties in getting on with day to day life, forming social relationships, finding employment and having meaningful engagement and contribution to society.
Despite all of the above, many of these women go on to achieve phenomenal things. I find these amazing women that I have the privilege of working with hugely inspirational. That is what keeps me going and motivates me to work hard.
The work in itself is not without its challenges as you could imagine, and I should mention that we rely on working in partnership with a whole host of other organisations. We couldn’t do this on or own, and I couldn’t do this without the support of Cre8te and the amazing women who engage with our projects.
3) Do you feel that your gender (however you self-identify) has contributed positively, negatively, or neutrally to your current life situation?
There is a reason I do what I do, first and foremost it is because I am a women. A women who has also experienced many of the social injustices that the women I work with face, I couldn’t do anything else, how could I?
My gender and life experience have shaped me, if you had asked me as a teenager did I feel that my gender had contributed positively to my life I would have told you categorically no without hesitation. I’m older (43) and a bit wiser now so ask me that same question today and the answer is yes, hell yes!
That shift is to do with education, understanding social injustice and gender inequality and being able to work and have a career dedicated to fighting for change, all be it in my own small way.
4) Can you tell us a little bit about your understanding of gender-based violence? What does that term (and what is describes) mean to you? Has it affected you and your life in any way?
Gender based violence is a huge problem of global proportions, it is a violation of women’s rights, and we must do all we can to eradicate it. This is why I didn’t have to think twice about getting involved in this campaign.
Violence against women is abhorrent, for me it is about male power and privilege and the abuse of that power. We live in a patriarchal world in which males have deliberately designed social structures where they have the power and overwhelmingly predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority and social privilege, holding authority over women and children.
Patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father” and it’s unbelievable that in 2017 this is still an issue. It hasn’t always been (I’m not going to go back in history), and I am confident it won’t always be so.
We have made huge progress over decades and centuries but there is still much work to be done. Working towards the eradication of violence against women and girls is hugely important because it affects us all, men and women. It’s about social values and the kind of society we want to live in. A society where women are not held back by violence will be a much better society it’s as simple as that.
5) Can you also tell us a bit about your understanding of gender equality? What does this term mean to you?
Gender equality is something to aspire to, a society where women are not held back simply because they are female is something worth fighting for, and fight we must (in a non-violent peaceful articulate way of course ;-)).
5a) Do you think gender equality exists? If not, what are a few ways that you think your life might change by the existence of gender equality?
Gender equality (unfortunately) does not exist, if it did then we would be living in a very different world. It is extremely difficult to imagine how that would make my life different, because the world would be such a different place, a better place. Where women’s voices are heard, listened to and acted upon. Imagine the possibilities of a world where there is equal gender representation, the possibilities are literally endless and overwhelmingly positive.
Personally I may have had the opportunity to fulfil my potential at a younger age, attend university based on my ability to learn and contributed to society in a much more meaningful way from a young age.
7) Ending on a lighter note, do you have a role model who identifies as female? If so, why do you look up to this person?
Nicola Sturgeon is my role model, she grew up in a working class family in a working class area and was the first in her family to go to university. She spent her early career working at the Drumchapel Law and Money Advice Centre. She certainly didn’t work there for the money or profile, but rather to help those that needed help most. Nicola has earned the right to call herself a “Drummie Burd” and I’d love to meet her to welcome her as one of our own.
What an inspiration she is to all women and girls, the first female First Minister of Scotland.
Glass ceilings are there for breaking regardless of your background or where you come from if only we had gender equality, imagine what we could all achieve?