As March approaches I start to feel a warm glow – and not just because the mercury is creeping up the thermometer. On a personal front, March is my birthday month, cue celebrations.. and who doesn’t like being made a fuss of? On a social and political front, March 8 is of course International Women’s Day, with more information at: https://damesnet.com/2015/03/2221/
As the day approaches it is impossible to forget how in many parts of the world women are living in circumstances that render the concept of equality of opportunity and rights for them a distant dream. And the extraordinary silencing of Democrat Senator Elisabeth Warrren in the US Senate during the recent debate on whether Senator Jeff Sessions should be appointed Attorney General reminds us that inequality and oppression of women can crop up anywhere, whatever their social status.
Senator Warren had tried to read out Coretta King’s (wife of Martin Luther King) objections made back in 1986 to the appointment of Jeff Sessions as a federal judge on the grounds that he was racially insensitive, but it was decided that, under a rarely used rule, she was impugning the Senator’s character. It did not go unrecorded that a male Democrat Senator subsequently read out Ms King’s comments without being sanctioned.
So I decided to cheer myself up and highlight past and current examples of women breaking their own glass ceiling to overcome what for them must have seemed impossible odds. A recent damesnet outing to see the film Hidden Figures by Theodore Melfi was one such instance. How could you fail to be inspired by the story of black, female, highly gifted mathematicians in 1961 making a crucial contribution to the space race in the US as President Kennedy racked up the pressure on NASA? And this at a time of complete segregation in the workplace, education system, transport system, church and local facilities such as libraries and shops.
Closer to home, the Metropolitan Police have just appointed their first female Commissioner, Cressida Dick, which means that the top three policing jobs in the country are held by women. The numbers of women in the police force have increased considerably in the last 30 years, but the Women Police Service (WPS) was founded in London in 1914 by Margaret Damer Dawson, an anti-slavery campaigner and Nina Boyle, a journalist militant suffragette. Dawson wanted a uniformed organisation of women to deter pimps and discourage women from taking up prostitution, and Boyle wanted to take advantage of the shortage of men available as the call-up of soldiers gathered momentum. Her aim was to install women in positions usually held by men, with the hope that this would continue after the war was over.
The Police Commissioner of the time issued the women of the Service with identity cards and allowed the women to patrol the streets and undertake rescue work amongst the prostitutes. They adopted the Metropolitan Police ranks of Sergeant and Inspector, although their practice of harassing prostitutes without taking action against their clients was not well received. The WPS were tasked with policing women munitions workers in 1915, but subsequently the organisation was side-lined. Instead, the future of women policing was taken forward by the Women’s Special Police Patrols, who had no links to the suffragette movement, and presumably were therefore more acceptable to certain parties. It is the actions of these women who laid the foundation for Ms Dick’s appointment.
Whatever you feel about the police, do have fun on International Women’s Day –there are many events around the country marking the date.