This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge”, and I am reminded of that famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
"One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility."
To me this quote says that life is about making choices and decisions, not just sitting back and accepting the status quo, sometimes it is right to stand up and challenge and to choose. We in this House have the awesome responsibility in that our choices and decisions impact directly on the lives of thousands, if not millions of people around the country, and sometimes around the world. The choices we make matter.
And as we think about this year’s theme to “Choose to Challenge”, I think of all the women locally in Hastings and Rye, who don’t talk about making a difference, they are doing it every single day in the actions they make.
From Joe Chadwick-Bell who took over as CEO of the local NHS Trust last October in the midst of the pandemic and has inspired and steered her team through some of the toughest months they’ve ever faced. To Natalie Williams who runs the Hastings Foodbank, and has tirelessly devoted her energy and enthusiasm to supporting and helping the most vulnerable in our communities. Then there are those in local Government from Becky Shaw who is the CEO of East Sussex County Council and Jane Hartnell who is the Managing Director of Hastings Borough Council - both have shown grit and dedication over the last year to help in the response to the Covid19 pandemic. Then we have the frontline leaders from Dawn Whittaker the Chief Fire Officer for East Sussex Fire and Rescue and Jo Shiner the Chief Constable for Sussex Police, who have again, both shown tireless dedication to leading their teams and instilling confidence and security in the communities they serve as we have battled through these dark times. I could keep going from Katy Bourne our Police and Crime Commissioner to Councillor Kim Forward the Leader of Hastings Borough Council, Jacki Monroe from the DWP to Chief Inspector Sarah Godley at Hastings Police.
All of these women, and many others besides, have chosen throughout their lives not to accept their lot, but instead have chosen to challenge, chosen to reach, chosen to be ambitious in the pursuit of serving others and giving back to the communities they call home.
When I think of the theme “Choose to Challenge” I don’t think of challenging an establishment, or a certain individual, instead I think of the choice we all make to challenge ourselves to reach further, to dream bigger and to work harder to achieve our ambitions and goals in life. I think of how as women we must push aside the cynicism that comes our way, and instead embrace the opportunities and ensure that as we do, we open them up to the women that will follow in our footsteps, or for whom the challenge to reach and to dream thus far seems too great.
I am pleased that on International Women’s Day we came together to recognise the heroism and dedication of women around our constituencies and beyond, who have inspired us and our communities in the last year, but also to recognise, that to get to where they are, they have had to challenge and cajole, to face down negativity and reach for the opportunities that at times seemed impossible to attain.
So, let’s not give in to the cynicism and pessimism of some, who would choose to hold us back. Instead let’s take our inspiration from the amazing women working across constituencies who have shown tremendous courage, dedication and compassion in the face of an unrelenting enemy – the Covid19 virus.
If we choose to embrace their light and inspiration. If we choose to shun the pessimism of others. If we “Choose to Challenge”, then in time we can make this a more just and equal world where the leadership and inspiration of women that we see across Hastings and Rye, is recognised and commonplace in all four corners of the globe.