In our latest instalment for International Women’s Day, we interview our senior consultant, Nana Guar:
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
IWD is recognition of women’s contribution to society and a reminder to the world that we really do matter. It’s reaffirming that women deserve the same opportunities and rights that many take for granted. However, it’s also a reminder that we (society) have a long way to go to embedding into social consciousness that women, in all their forms and complexity, are valuable and worthy of respect and equal opportunities.
Have you experienced any negative gender-related issues in your career?
Certainly. Having worked across several different cultural contexts, including the Middle East, Africa and Europe, I have had more questionable experiences than I care to recount! It has ranged from the seemingly benign, being called ‘sweetheart’ or ‘honey’ by older men in a meeting, to a brazenly offensive incident I had to report. A few years ago, two colleagues and I were on a business trip and checked into a well-regarded hotel. As we made our way to our respective rooms, the hotel security singled me out for an identity check. I happened to be the only woman in the group and no one else was asked for their ID. When my confused colleagues queried why I was being stopped, security insisted on seeing my ID and told them to move along. It didn’t matter that we were all suited and booted, laptops and briefcases in hand with our individual room keys. The security man had to be sure I wasn’t there for dubious reasons and followed me to my door!
What advice would you give your younger self as you started to navigate your career?
Don’t let anyone disregard your humanity or your badassery because of your gender, race or for any other reason. Don’t let the opinions of others determine how you feel about your worth. Do trust your intuition, and don’t allow doubt or politeness to stop you from speaking truth to power. Your opinions are valid and deserve to be heard.
What would your hopes be for Women and specifically around the theme of #PressforProgress?
#PressforProgress is a great theme that impresses the need for perseverance and change. My hope is that as we push ahead, we really think about and engage in conversations about what progress means for different types of women – and not just a standardised monolithic view of women.
I hope that in our well-intentioned efforts, we are attentive to nuanced and multi-faceted struggles within the #PressforProgress movement – the struggles within the struggle. It’s well established that inequalities rooted in race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity are inextricably linked and shaped by one another. The concept of “intersectionality“, which emerged in the 1960s and was coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, describes the way different forms of discrimination overlap and compound each other. And while intersectionality was popularised by African American women in relation to race and gender, ‘the theory has proven necessary to understanding a wide range of differences, including individuals’ sexual orientation, age, class, disability, and more’[i]. As such, the call for gender parity must recognise that women experience oppression and disparity in different forms and in varying degrees of intensity.[ii]
As a black woman, it’s impossible for me to attribute acts of discrimination or prejudice solely to being a woman or solely to being black. Both are visible aspects of my identity. The security man that followed me in the hotel lobby probably did so because I was a black woman – not just because I was a woman. And even as a black woman who has faced discrimination, I recognise that I have other privileges that other women do not, based on my educational background, religious background, being able bodied and cis-gendered.
So, my hope (and challenge) for women AND men, is that as we #PressforProgress, let’s also press beyond the platitudes. As individuals and in our respective areas of influences, let’s check our privilege and assumptions of (in)equality, because progress isn’t truly progress unless it’s INCLUSIVE progress.
[i] YW Boston. 2017. http://www.ywboston.org/2017/03/what-is-intersectionality-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with-me/
[ii] Intersectional feminism’. What the hell is it? (And why you should care). https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10572435/Intersectional-feminism.-What-the-hell-is-it-And-why-you-should-care.html