Vicki Belovski is a journalist, mother of seven and the rebbetzin of Golders Green United Synagogue.
Michali Belovski is a third-year student of Biomedical Engineering at City, University of London. She is active in student politics, both within and without the Jewish community.
Vicki: Walking down Whitehall with a Nisa Nashim banner at the recent March4Women, accompanied by thousands of other women and many men, I felt both privileged and disappointed. Privileged to have been the beneficiary of an excellent education in an all-girls school, which imbued me with the feeling that, “Girls can do anything” and disappointed that despite the huge strides towards gender parity in the UK over the last 100 years, there are still tremendous and inexplicable inequities in the way women and men are treated.
When I was at school over 30 years ago, girls were being encouraged to study maths and sciences (I don’t think the term STEM had been invented yet). We were also encouraged to be confident participants in all settings. In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, I’ve seen articles and videos saying that more girls should study STEM subjects and be confident to speak up. What has happened during this time? Why are we still fighting the same battles?
And, perhaps more to the point, should we still be fighting the same battles? There are plenty of women my age or even older, who are strong, confident role models – running businesses and charity organisations, whilst raising a family and running a home. It is somewhat ironic that whilst some feminists demand that homemakers should be paid for the work that they do, they also don’t seem to acknowledge this role as a crucial and unique contribution to society. Perhaps we need to rethink both our objectives and the ways to accomplish them? Society must recognise the importance of women’s work behind the scenes, so that women don’t feel they have failed if they are not a brain surgeon or the CEO of a public company. And as well as educating our daughters to speak up for themselves, we must educate our sons to listen, encourage and support their sisters.
Michali: I didn’t go on the march, because I was at home, attempting to write an app for my third year Biomedical Engineering project. I am a woman studying a STEM subject, and of course I have noticed a lack of other women in STEM, particularly in engineering. However, as my mother has pointed out, we have been encouraging women to go into STEM for decades, and I still sit in Electrical Engineering lectures with so many men that when strangers walk in, they ask, “Where are the women?”
Given that 40 years of blanket encouragement of schoolgirls into STEM has not been very effective, we need to encourage girls individually. Tell your younger sisters and their friends what you are doing, ask them if they have thought of a career in computers or chemistry. Open people’s horizons and empower them to make their own life choices.
It’s rare these days to see a panel without a woman, but it’s often obvious that they are just there to tick the box. A token female is not the role model we need. We need our role models to be those strong, independent women who go about their daily lives doing all the things that they do, whether that’s being a physicist or the prime minister or a housewife. Recognising that many women already have fulfilling careers and leadership positions can itself be an inspiration.
(V&M): We are blessed with strong female role models and supportive men in our lives. However, with enough encouragement, no woman should feel that she cannot fill any role she wants.
After all, it doesn’t matter if only 10% of engineers are women, but it does matter if only 10% of women believe they can be engineers.