'Celebrate your individualism and creativity': Inspiring Young Hackney Women

One-hundred-and-seventeen years. That’s how long, according to forecasters, women will have to wait before they achieve equality, in all aspects of life, with men.

It was the first of a welter of shock stats that year 9 and 10 Hackney schoolgirls - whose grandchildren are likely to experience gender parity - faced on Tuesday, International Women’s Day, when they had come together as part of the Council’s first Inspiring Young Hackney Women celebration.

The event, held at the Tomlinson Centre, in Queensbridge Road, connected students from four local secondary schools - The Petchey, Clapton, Bridge academies and Our Lady’s Girls’ School - and 20 successful women from a range of typically male-dominated sectors, including construction, science, music, medicine and business.

The aim? To galvanise, empower and inspire the younger women that they could and should be able make it in a man’s world.

“Some of the statistics make me angry and a little bit depressed,” said Cllr Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor of Hackney. “Women across the world do not take their equal place at the table with men. But, the number of women in Hackney who came forward [for the event] and said ‘I want to help’, and talk to other young women, and help them with their career, I felt genuinely inspired by that.”

Four panellists - company director Jenni Gwiazdowski; A&E doctor Ronke Ikharia (Dr Ronx); creative writer and performer Sabrina Mahfouz; and inventor Martha Silcott – got the audience thinking - and laughing - with presentations on their lives and work. 

“I want to impress on you that you can do it, whatever ‘it’ means for you,” Martha, who invented tampon disposal pouch FabLittleBag, told the audience, “but you do need a toolkit. And your toolkit is: belief, passion and enthusiasm, tenacity and surrounding yourselves with good people. It isn’t easy forging your own path, but you just keep going.”

Jenni, who set up and runs the London Bike Kitchen, which teaches women cycle maintenance, encouraged the girls to follow their instincts and talents, not convention.

“I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do in my life when I was young,” she said, “and didn’t have the sort of enlightenment you have here today.

“If you’re one of those tactile people, if you like working with your hands, try woodworking, try metal-working - it’s really fun.”

The event, in partnership with the national Inspiring Women Campaign, aimed to encourage the borough’s younger women to broaden their horizons and aspirations, smash glass ceilings, and think outside the career box.

The day touched on self-esteem too.

“Celebrate your individualism and creativity,” Dr Ronx, who took a year out of medical school to raise funds to continue her studies, offered the girls. “Look around you and draw inspiration from the role models in your life. Don’t aim for perfection but aspire to be the best that you can be.”

Meanwhile performer Sabrina performed a blistering critique on women’s self-esteem issues with her rousing, ventriloquistic poem. “Beyoncé is class and that, but still, I don’t want to look hourglass, I want to look ill,” thundered one line.

She prefaced it: “I surveyed 1,000 girls aged between 13 and 19 and the second-biggest anxiety young women had was body image – all sorts of body image - weight being one of the main ones.”

The panel discussion was followed by ‘speed-dating’-style workshops, which allowed the girls to talk informally with more than a dozen other women, including a civil rights lawyer, plumber, senior civil servant, architect and medical engineer.

Evita Remy-Benn, 15, from Our Lady’s, said after: “I enjoyed all the support and encouragement the women gave us, the inspirational conversations I had with them, and the advice they gave me.”

Naomi Iwuchukwu, 14, from Bridge, added: “My favourite part was the speed-networking. I got to personally ask women about their careers. I realised there will always be setbacks but never to give up.”

If you are a school that would like to hold its own inspiring women event, you can contact the inspiring women campaign here; or email Jane Ball at:jane.ball@hackney.gov.uk