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Balance for Better – International Women’s Day 2019

Published: 7 March 2019
Avila Chidume
Law student Avila Chidume is using her unique greeting cards to inform and inspire.

The International Women's Day 2019 campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

To celebrate, we’re highlighting students, staff and alumni at the University of Southampton who are 'superheroes in plain sight' for sharing their experiences and contributions to championing the call for gender balance in all aspects of life.

 

 

Avila Chidume

Southampton Law student, Avila Chidume, is hoping to overcome stereotypes and change the world’s perceptions – one greeting card at a time.

Avila has created her own range of cards, marketed online under her brand ‘Avila Diana’ and featuring her own original artwork, depicting marginalised groups including those with disabilities, identifying as LGBT+, ethnic minorities or problems with mental health. Her philosophy is simple – change society’s narrative from what it is now because what is happening right now is unacceptable.

How important is gender balance to you, particularly in your passion for human rights as well as referencing your greeting cards? 

From a very young age, I have had powerful women to look up and aspire to be like. From my mother, aunts and even friends, the women we let into our lives greatly influence our perception of the world. The women in my life have influenced me to demand better for myself and achieve/accomplish whatever dreams I have, hence why I had the confidence to launch my greeting card company Avila.Diana. 

I believe that gender balance is the main solution to solving a lot of the world’s issues. No one benefits from gender imbalance caused by oppressive structures which prevent qualified or skilled people from performing important tasks because of their gender. To simply have male dominated institutions is not representative of the world we live in. There is strength in diversity, in allowing everyone at the table to share their experiences and learn from them. Without female leaders, we would not have half the rights awarded to both women and men. Female leaders continue to prove time and time again that they are just as capable as their male counterparts, they are capable of identifying and tackling issues which may be disregarded generally but greatly impact half the world’s population. They are the reason that girls and women, such as myself, are capable of receiving education and going onto to become business owners or lawyers because they have fought and continue to fight for our rights to live as we want to. 

In your experience, what barriers and/or successes could you highlight where gender balance has been particularly instrumental in making a positive change or where gender balance is still a major problem? 

My personal experiences have generally been very positive with regards to gender balance, I cannot think of many times when I was denied something because I am a woman. These are the types of experiences/stories I wish all women could share, however that is not the case. 

The reason why I am studying law is that from a young age I have been aware of the global issue of gender discrimination. I have read about Malala Yousafzai’s story, social injustices faced by trans-women, women’s homicide statistics, and stories about women who were never able to fulfill their dreams because of patriarchal notions which belittle women. 

I aspire to change the narrative on who women are through my business. One card which I have depicts a black woman about to take an anti-depressant, this is not a common image to see given the stigma of mental health in the black community and the ‘strong black woman’ stereotype which is overplayed in the media. I believe that a lot of institutions and organizations are beginning to see the value in gender balance but the only way they are to have any positive impact is by bringing diversity to their boardrooms and allowing oppressed voices to speak up on their experiences.  

If you were to turn into a superhero overnight, what special powers would you hope to inherit and how would you use them (more personal answer than the super power highlighted in the film of you in the studio – any super power you choose!)? 

A cool superpower to have would be to manipulate time, so I have more hours in the day to do university assignments and card designs! 

 

Dr Cheryl Metcalf
Dr Cheryl Metcalf - welcomes gender balance in her research

Dr Cheryl Metcalf

Much of the work of Dr Cheryl Metcalf, is focused on the interface between engineering and health through technology innovation and knowledge exchange. She is particularly interested in the ‘Biomechanics of Skill Acquisition’ looking relationship between movement, function and skill.

In addition to teaching and research in Health Sciences Dr Metcalf is also Associate Director of Enterprise within the Faculty of Environmental & Life Sciences at the University of Southampton.

How important is gender balance to you, particularly in areas of your research?

Men and women bring different perspectives to research, as in everything else. I work across various disciplines and I find that the more variety of perspectives in a team, the better the ideas. Having a gender balance is an important part of variety, but also role-modelling for Early Career Researchers and students too.

In your own experience, what barriers and/or successes could you highlight where gender balance has been particularly instrumental in making a positive change or where gender balance is still a major problem?

I went from a very male-dominated department (Electronics & Computer Science) to a very female dominated department (Health Sciences). Both departments have very different ways of working and the gender bias has both a positive and negative impact on the culture. Navigating those cultural and individual dynamics can sometimes be difficult but also beneficial.

If you were to turn into a superhero overnight, what special powers would you hope to inherit and how would you use them?

Initially, I thought the ability to fly, so I could bypass the roadworks around Southampton! But I think I would probably like the ability to time travel. I’d go to the future and see the world we have created (good and bad) then come back and pull key problem solvers together sooner.

 

Professor Rachel Mills
Professor Rachel Mills - gender must not be a barrier to success

Professor Rachel Mills

Professor Rachel Mills is a deep-sea oceanographer who works on the chemistry of the seafloor and its impact on life in the sea. She has led research expeditions using submersibles and remotely operated vehicles to remote and deep, unexplored parts of the ocean.

She is Dean of the Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Southampton and is a member of the University Executive. Over her career she has developed and delivered undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Ocean and Earth Science. More recently she has led the development and delivery of a free online course ‘Exploring our Ocean’ that has had global reach with learners of all ages and impact on societal understanding of sustainable oceans. 

Rachel is Past-President of the Challenger Society for Marine Science, the UK’s learned society for oceanographers and other marine experts. She regularly provides advice and direction for a range of international and UK organisations and high profile projects.

How important is gender balance to you, particularly in areas of your research?

Balance is hugely important, it makes research so much more effective and more enjoyable.  I spend stretches of time at sea on ships and so much prefer the gender balance in more recent expeditions over being the sole woman on board in the early days of my career.

In your own experience, what barriers and/or successes could you highlight where gender balance has been particularly instrumental in making a   positive change or where gender balance is still a major problem?

Ensuring we have gender balance every time we set up a panel of speakers, examiners or reviewers is hugely important to all involved. It is particularly important to signal to the next generation that gender is not a barrier to success and that women can succeed and still maintain a work-life balance.

If you were to turn into a superhero overnight, what special powers would you hope to inherit and how would you use them?

I would wake up with the ability to control time – speed it up for the boring bits and slow it right down when needed. Maybe even replay the favourite bits!

 

 

Notes for editors

To see Avila, Cheryl and Rachel transform into superheroes, visit our TwitterFacebook and Instagram accounts.

Click here to discover more extraordinary #UoSWomen.  

 

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