International Women’s Day – a chance to bring about positive change
— Ellie Bird is a Detective Superintendent with British Transport Police and Vice President of the British Association for Women in Policing. Throughout her 26 years service Ellie has worked in uniform, detective and headquarters roles, including as Operations Superintendent on London Underground with responsibility for policing major events such as the Tour de France and command for major incidents. Ellie has experience in policing child abuse and domestic violence investigations as well as public protection and serious crime. The opinions expressed are her own. —
As I read the newspaper today, I am reminded of the fact that thousands of women burn to death every year in domestic violence
Through the nature of my work, my personal travels and my charity ventures around the world I have been exposed to many different issues affecting women and the challenges they face and endure in their day-to-day lives.
For me, the significance of International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on my own experiences, to consider what I would do faced with the problems many women are exposed to today and given the opportunity and responsibility, what would I do to try and help to bring about positive change. It also affords me the opportunity to encourage others to learn about and consider these issues and for me to ask what legacy I would wish to leave given the chance to make a difference.
Many people still believe discrimination, physical, mental and sexual abuses are no longer significant issues affecting millions of women across the world – clearly we still need to educate.
In 2006, I travelled through Kathmandu on my way to Everest Base Camp raising money to train midwives at the Women’s Hospital based in Birmingham, England, on how to identify domestic violence during pregnancy. I was horrified not only to discover that this was a significant problem in many of the UK’s communities but also the cultural impact it created on those living in such a vast rural environment. For instance, women, who on deciding to leave their husbands as a result of such abuse, would almost certainly risk losing family support; the loss of their immediate family and bring dishonour to their extended family. As a result, many women would choose to stay in the relationship thereby being captive to a lifetime of abuse.
I have learnt in my professional career that to take on a challenge is one thing but to fight for change is both valiant and brave. These however, are worthless endeavours unless one is confident about the future and equally confident that change is sustainable and progressive.
It has to be right to liberate young women and girls, grant them access to free education and enable them to live in an environment where they can positively develop. As a consequence, this may lead to women owning their own property, running their own businesses and more importantly passing on their positive experiences to other women within their respective communities.
In order to make a difference, those seeking to bring about change must very carefully consider the training, the support and the infrastructure required so that these changes may be taken forward for generations to come.
There is no doubt that much has been achieved, as my life and indeed all of our working environments become more culturally diverse we all have to acknowledge and consider opportunities and fairness for women across the globe.
As an example, in India equality of the sexes is guaranteed in the constitution but apparently remains a distant dream for all but the very rich. Before we discard this as being irrelevant to us, let us consider carefully how effective our laws, guidance and good practices have been. Cultural influences do not change when people cross continents and so in policing terms, we have to learn to identify and respond appropriately to those women who are a part of our communities.
International Women’s Day is about having the opportunity to explore and challenge cultures. It is only through learning about and challenging cultures that I believe we really will achieve long term sustainable change thereby enabling women to maximise their potential and the contribution they can make to their world.