You’ll probably find me prattling on about equality, and discrimination, even more than usual over the coming month, particularly gender equality, because in the UK we have a general election in a month’s time. Although the present Government is headed for a landslide victory we do have an opportunity to cause a bit of a storm because we now have the Female Equality Party and, exciting for me, the party leader is standing in the constituency where I live. I referred briefly to her, Sophie Walker, in my previous post.

I haven’t ‘marched’ for years, 23 years to be precise when a German teaching colleague and I were pushed to the front of the column of protesting Romanian teachers which we had joined.

I’m polishing my marching boots now and honing my placarding skills. But as a starter I thought I’d give you a run-down of how and when I took up the cudgels against each type of discrimination. I might be a year or so out but not more, and gender discrimination was not the first.

Religious discrimination

I first experienced religious discrimination when I was about eight years old, though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time and what we’d now call bullying was not directed at me. I can now see there was an element of economic discrimination too as the bullying was directed at children from Roman Catholic families, who were generally even poorer than us. Even at that tender age I did not understand it and was often in trouble with the ‘protestant’ clique as I insisted on playing with the RCs.

Gender discrimination

I didn’t recognise discrimination against women until I was much older, 16 in fact. At that time I was working in a research laboratory and began to question why all the lab technicians were women, no males, but there was not one woman among the many research staff or section heads. It would not be true now but there’s still a long way to go. I eventually, in 2006, ended up working in an organisation specifically supporting and promoting the roles of women in science and technology.

Racial discrimination

I first became aware of racial (or skin colour) discrimination in the early 1960s when, between ‘real’ jobs, I worked for a short time in a coffee bar near Victoria station in London. I had a colleague, a lovely man from Balochistan (or should that be Baluchistan?) called Gulamnabi (the spelling may not be correct) and was horrified by the abuse he got from seemingly civilised customers. I used to put orange concentrate in their early morning coffee 😇 and steam it till it was too hot to drink (they were always in a rush). I’ve had many confrontations since those days.

Disability/ability discrimination

I think I first became aware of the discrimination against people with a disability in the late 1980s when, as a member of a Lions club, I assisted at sports days and in clubs for people with a disability. This culminated in my visit to Romania in 1993, initially specifically to work with children with a disability and their parents. More recently I’ve worked for a charity supporting people with sight loss and additional disabilities.

Age discrimination

I’ve never had a problem with age discrimination but I know and/or know of many people who have, particularly when looking for employment in the early 2000s. The best story I have was from applying for a job in an organisation supporting women in science and technology, when I did not respond to the date of birth question on the application form. “I see you didn’t reply to the age question,” said one of the interviewing panel. “Here we go,” I thought as I answered “No”. “Good for you,” was the response. I got the job.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Homophobia was not obvious to me before the late 1970s when I sometimes went to dinner parties where I was with a lady partner but all the other couples were male and discussions round the table made me aware of it. In some ways it became far worse when homosexual acts between men finally became decriminalised in 2004. Of course there never had been legislation making lesbian acts illegal. Oddly enough I ended up working in an organisation supporting LGBT people in 2005; really odd for me was that I was the only ‘straight’ person in the organisation, no problem for me but it was for some of my colleagues.

That sets out my battlefield for the coming month. My weapons will only be words but you all know I’m sure the English metonymic adage about the pen being mightier than ….

Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time will know that a hobby horse of mine is the insufficient recognition of the contribution made to our society by women. I know that I’m a couple of days late but Sunday was International Women’s Day so I wanted to feature some specific women and, what is more, women entrepreneurs. So, I’ve chosen two such women, and their two female colleagues, who have recently launched a venture which could be very good for the village in which I live, although they do not live here, and in which I have become involved in a small way.

The team which has brought a new community magazine to my Wharfedale village, Menston.  L to R, Louise Atkinson, partner and graphic designer, Cathy Frobisher , Office Manager, Janet-Alison  Arkright , Partner and 'Sales Contributor', and   Andrea Kerman, Sales Person, at the reception in their offices in Haworth, each holding the first edition of the new magazine.

The all-female team which has brought a new community magazine to my Wharfedale village, Menston. Left to Right: Louise Atkinson, Partner and Graphic Designer; Cathy Frobisher, Office Manager; Janet-Alison Arkright , Partner and ‘Sales Contributor’; and Andrea Kerman, Sales Person. Proudly showing the first edition of the magazine open at the Menston pages.

From the village in which lived three extraordinary women who through their writings put the Yorkshire village of Haworth and Yorkshire on the world map – the Bronte sisters of course – this quartet – all mothers with young children, continue what Charlotte, Emily and Anne began.

Menston section of the new community magazine 'It's the business', covering postcode area LS29

Menston section of the new community magazine ‘It’s the business’, covering postcode area LS29 in Wharfedale, Yorkshire

My small contribution to the venture is to write the Menston page and compile the list of events and activities in Menston village. This fits in very well with doing the same thing for what I call the ‘alternative’ Menston website:
http://menstonvillagewharfedale.com

My village’s community activities thrive on the efforts of a lot of remarkable women who live in Menston; many of them are volunteers for a wide range of community organisations ranging from offering support to the elderly to a female choir or arranging events to raise money for victims of the Philippines typhoon Haiyan; several are entepreneurs who run their own businesses, ranging from the village bakery to a fitness studio offering Pilates sessions.

Going back to the female team behind the new magazine, all are mothers and the two partners also run other businesses as well as caring for the family:

Janet-Alison Arkwright has three young sons and a collection of rescue dogs and cats at home. Now qualified in Business, Finance and Law, Janet started as a cleaner at Airedale Hospital but eventually became Cancer Information Officer. She subsequently worked for top names like Asda, worked part-time on the business side for another local magazine and set up her own cleaning company, JA Services Ltd, which she still runs in Haworth. She manages to find the time too for competitive fell running as a member of Keighley and Craven Athletics Club.

Louise Atkinson has a son at primary school. She has a B Tech in graphic design and worked for several years in the print industry covering every aspect. Almost seven years ago she set up her own print company and runs that, KTG Design and Print, and offers graphic design services from Stanbury, close to Haworth. 

Andrea Kerman began work with Magnet, a well-known local kitchen manufacturer, then after a period with a knitting yarns supplier spent several years with the Inland Revenue. She is also a competitive fell runner with Wharfedale Harriers. She has four daughters ranging from 9 to 13 years old.

Cathy Frobisher began her career working for the NHS, which sponsored her to go to Birmingham University where she obtained her foundation degree in Health and Social Care. She came to work for Janet almost three years ago.