Fiona Kendall, European and Legal Affairs Advisor for FCEI.
8th March, International women’s day: what does it represent for you? Do you usually celebrate it? If yes, how? If not why?
I haven’t yet planned what I will do but I will certainly mark the day. Last year I took part in a march and then cooked dinner for some female friends. The existence of this “day” did not come to my notice until 2003, when I was doing voluntary work in a girls’ secondary school in Zambia. It happened to be 8th March whilst I was there. In that country, where many women do not enjoy the same opportunities as their peers in other countries, the significance of the day, and all that it represents, was brought home to me. I mark it now, not so much for myself, but for my sisters who do not enjoy the same rights and freedoms as I have.
Who is the woman that you admire most?
There are too many to name! It is perhaps better to identify the qualities they share: tenacity, strength of character, courage and kindness.
The American suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in the late nineteenth century, with other activists wrote The Woman’s Bible. What is the role of the woman, in your religion and community, from your point of view, not only theological but especially for what is your personal experience?
I grew up in a denomination which took steps to place women on an equal footing with men before I was old enough to know any different. Women and men may perform precisely the same functions in the Church of Scotland. All of us have different roles to play but these roles are not ascribed to us on the basis of gender. Rather, it depends on the gifts each person has to offer. For me, that is a thing worth celebrating.
Have you ever felt discriminated against or diminished as a woman?
I would say that I have occasionally felt patronised rather than discriminated against. I have sometimes needed to fight to be taken seriously in contexts, social or professional, where traditional attitudes prevail. However, overall, I have never felt that my gender has been a real obstacle to my progress or stopped me from living as I wish.
Women “one step behind “, abortion as the result of” uncivilized lifestyles”: these two are only last episodes of sexism that, beyond the individual responsibilities, still exists and remains in media. What do you think of it?
It is regrettable that some who enjoy celebrity or power make sweeping generalisations which belittle women. Ultimately, they reveal the people concerned to be undeveloped in their thinking. However, as these voices carry weight, we need to be prepared to make counter-arguments and demonstrate why a more thoughtful approach is required.
A political, legislative, or cultural, law which you would write to improve the female condition.
In Scotland, politicians from all parties are backing the principle of tackling “period poverty” by making sanitary products available to all those who need them free of charge. A bill is presently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. Education is fundamental to the progress of any human being, yet some girls stay off school for up to five days a month because they cannot afford sanitary products. This is a gender issue which, with sufficient political will, could be simply addressed in Scotland and beyond.
In 2018 the #MeToo movement was named “person of the year” by Time. In the same year, it was estimated that 379 million women suffered physical and/or sexual violence. What do you think?
These figures are shocking. (I would add that it is also shocking that men, albeit in far fewer numbers, should be the victims of violence at the hands of women). Having worked previously as a family lawyer, I am aware that it is a feature of domestic abuse in particular that many victims find it incredibly difficult admit and report what is happening. It is therefore extremely important to create conditions which allow victims to feel safe about reporting abuse, for reports to be taken seriously and for allegations to be properly investigated.
A message for men and one for women.
We have an opportunity to create a society where diversity is celebrated and everyone, female or male, is respected. In order to succeed in that goal, we need to begin with respecting ourselves and treating those we encounter with dignity.