Mwila Mulenshi, Head of Services and Impact
Women’s History Month is a chance to remind ourselves how far we’ve come on our journey towards gender equality and to recognise what work there is still to be done. Despite the distance still to be travelled, the opportunities and freedoms we experience now as women are thanks to the efforts of incredible women who have been the giants whose shoulders we stand on today. As a woman on an all-female senior leadership team navigating a charity through these unprecedented times, I have been reflecting this past month on the female role models in my life and how they have inspired me.
My grandmother, a strong Bemba woman, went from living a life of luxury as the wife of my successful grandfather to being a single mother of six children living in a house ten times smaller than her marital home. She didn’t let that stop or define her. She went on to build a business which still exists today that has fed many thousands and was able to see her children and grandchild aim for a life better than the one she experienced. She is my role model. As a black female it has been important to find women that look like me who are modelling the character and success that I aspire to.
Here are three more inspiring black women who carved a path for others.
1. Shirley Bassey – Jazz Singer
From a young age, Shirley’s singing talent was undeniable. Although she did not always find encouragement at school, she was encouraged by her family from whom she had inherited her singing talents. Shirley went on to be one of the most famous singers of her generation and even sung the title tracks to three Bond films.
2. Tessa Sanderson – Javelin Thrower & Heptathlete
Tessa moved to Britain from the Caribbean when she was only nine years old. Although this may seem like a scary move, Tessa settled in quickly in her new home of Wolverhampton, helped by her love of sport. By the age of sixteen had won her first javelin championship.
3. Dr Mae Jemison – Engineer, Physician & Astronaut
Mae loved reading books about science and astronomy as a child and by the time she was in nursery school, she knew she wanted to become a scientist.
Girls today still need us to show up as fierce as my grandma Miriam and all other inspirational women because there is still a long way to go in creating a world of equality for them.
Gender disparity in mental ill-health
Young people, especially girls, are at increased risk of mental health problems between the ages 11-14, younger than previously thought. On average, girls’ emotional difficulties increase by 17% between the ages of 11 and 14, compared to boys whose difficulties remain largely stable.
Girls of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic heritage at greatest risk
Girls of mixed ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk than white British girls of severe mental health problems.
79% girls and young women have experienced bullying or unacceptable behaviours.
Violence against girls
23,000 girls under 15 are at risk of FGM every year in the UK.
Chance UK are RISE-ing to the challenge by launching the Girls RISE programme later this year, aimed particularly at girls aged 8 – 13. Through this we will contribute to creating better early access services for girls who are currently underserved by our mentoring programmes. This work will also help enable system change by raising awareness amongst teachers and parents of the importance of recognising the challenges and identifying difficulties girls may be facing. Our commitment to bringing a broader range of voices and diverse role models to the resources we use and share will help us to support children with the development of positive attitudes towards women and girls.
To every woman who is a mother, a friend, a sister, a CEO, a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen: you are the woman whose essence is a gift to the world.