@jmollins - looking forward to the photos!
John Entwisle, Thomson Reuters Archivist, links the events surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII and the resultant catapulting of his reluctant younger brother, Bertie, to become King in his place with today's International Women’s Day.
Entwisle looks back at the career of a woman who regarded herself as ‘an ordinary’ employee of Reuters but who found herself taking some of the first steps towards changing for ever the way women were perceived within the company. On the night of 10 December 1936, in London, a Reuters teletypist dropped a two-word ‘rush’ down the chute from her office in the old Carmelite Street building to the editorial floor below and produced a few seconds of stunned silence……followed by pandemonium. The words were ‘King abdicates’ and the teletypist was Mrs Ellen Harris, always known within Reuters as Miss Baylis or ‘Bay’.
Renowned as the fastest teletyper in ‘Fleet Street’, Bay was well-qualified to deal with the torrent of words which followed.
Bay had joined Reuters as a 14 year-old messenger girl at one of the darkest times of the 20th Century, during the summer of 1916. The First World War was at its height and the Battle of the Somme was raging in northern France. Twenty five years later, in 1941, she had progressed through various secretarial posts and the world was again at war. Many of Reuters male employees had been ‘called up’ for war service. So Bay was asked to become a Reuters Parliamentary shorthand reporter, based at the British House of Commons. She thus became the very first woman ever to be given a ticket for the Press Gallery. A barrier had been breached.
An introductory letter from Valentine Harvey, Chief of Reuters Parliamentary Staff, ended: “Under the scattered conditions in which the Gallery lives nowadays I do not think this will cause anybody any inconvenience although I have tried to avoid it for as long as possible. She is a very quiet and unassuming person well used to men. She is married. The immediate point is whether there is any special cloakroom for women members of the Gallery. Is the Ladies Gallery one still in use? If not, where?”
Having obtained her ticket for the Press Gallery, Bay was certainly not going to give it up without a fight. She remained a ticket-holding member for 21 years and was present when Winston Churchill gave the Commons the news of the end of the war in Europe in 1945.
She even achieved another revolution in British Parliamentary procedure by walking ‘hatless’ into the House of Lords. As she said, many years later in an interview recorded for the Reuters Archive,
I had been sent to watch a certain point in the Lords and when I arrived without a hat I was told to go back and get one. This raised the question of difficulties over clothing coupons and shortage of clothes and the rules were altered to allow women to appear without hats…
However, the Press Gallery was not the only bastion of maleness to be changed forever by Bay.
In 1932, on her marriage, she managed to persuade Reuters to relax its company rule and allow her to remain in employment [as a married woman]. Permission was given but with the proviso that she agreed to retain her maiden name in the office, thus, in effect, blurring the fact that she was indeed married. She agreed but simply cancelled out the proviso by continuing to be known not as ‘Miss Baylis’ but as Bay.
Once opened, the door couldn’t be closed. Never again was Reuters able to strictly enforce the ‘resignation on marriage’ rule for female staff.
Bay retired from Reuters in 1967 after nearly 51 years service.
She died on 10 April 1997, ten days before her 95th birthday.
@Amanda Cooper - why are Companies and some women so averse to setting quotas - there needs to be a cultural shift both in the boardroom and at grassroots level as a wise woman once said 'what gets measured gets done'
Was Harriet Harman's comment 'if only it had been Lehman Sisters' on the ball? Are women less risk averse in a corporate environment and if so is that good thing? It could be argued that you need to be open to risk to succeed in the cut throat world of business - whatever your gender
@thalbir.shokar I'm not necessarily averse to setting quotas but I think we should be careful about the extent to which they create the change we wish to seek.
I was impressed to see a wider range of coverage of IWD in the UK national press, in a country where this isn't celebrated in mainstream culture as it is in continental Europe. This is a testament to all the fantastic NGOs and others working so hard to get women's voices heard.
A few highlights:
Great coverage in the Guardian: Looking at the top 100 women
Mirror: Calls for us to recognize the work of women and give them due respect both within and outside the home
Observer: Focuses on the importance of educating girls
Daily Mail: Argued yesterday that celebs should fight for women being ignored here in Britain?
Disappointingly no coverage in the Times or the Telegraph...
Anyone else seen any really good coverage today? Or been disappointed by the lack of coverage?
I have generally found that a gender balance in a team of any description (holiday tours, school classes, work teams) always seems to function best, it's true. Studies do seem to support this anecdotal evidence - www.20-first.com/9-0-better-bottom-line.html
IN HER SHOES
The world today celebrates 100 years of activism by women - a global celebration, but hardly are all women celebrating .
Let’s take the Kenyan woman, what do these celebrations mean for her? To answer that, we would have to know who the Kenyan woman is – and she cannot be fitted into a comfortable one-size-fits-all box.
She could be Iman--an urban woman who had access to the highest levels of education and is now juggling various roles, including climbing the corporate ladder while balancing a marriage with well-adjusted children.
The Kenyan woman could also be Maisha – another urban woman but with a very different reality. She’s your local mama mboga, or the lady you pay to do your laundry and clean your house every other day. Her access to education was limited - probably because she got pregnant and was abandoned by both the baby daddy and her parents - compelling an early exit from school. She lives in one of the sprawling slums that dots our major cities and struggles every day to eke out a living for herself, her 3 children and her on-off husband/lover.
Every day, Maisha and Imani risk falling prey to gender violence that specifically targets them as women. It could happen in in their homes, which should be a safe space for them. Or it could happen on the street a stranger who sexually forces himself upon them as they go about their daily business. At the end of the month, both women will turn to their chamas (women groups) for moral comfort from the sisterhood and will go home with the benefits of their pooled savings. Is the Kenyan woman a rural woman like Amani? After all, the majority of Kenyan men and women live in rural areas. Depending on where she had the (mis)fortune to be born, Amani might not be educated at all, or if she does make it to primary school, it is merely to pass time. After all, education is not a priority for her famly or the culture into which she was born – so what if it is a right spelt out for her in the Constitution, or the Children’s Act? Culture has spoken - all else be damned.
Aman had her life-plan already charted out for her at birth. The highlights are easy to remember - they are only 3; her birth, preparation for marriage and marriage. Her birth was received with mixed feelings as her father expected a boy and her mother fervently prayed for a boy. However, it was not all bad as this disappointment could be redeemed in just over a decade--by highlight number three. At the age of 12, Amani becomes a woman! To celebrate this milestone her mother and grandmother will lead the ancient initiation ceremony that involves the brutal re-engineering of her vagina. It is illegal culturally sanctioned and practiced widely- notwithstanding that it is excruciatingly painful and life-threatening. Her recuperation will be in the home of her husband – the grandfatherly groom pre-selected at her birth.
What about yet another rural Kenyan woman named Zawadi - the one who went to school and even completed secondary school but could not proceed further because of poverty? Yet, she counts herself lucky. Unlike a number of her classmates, she did not have to drop out as a result of pregnancy--pregnancy that could have been prevented either through basic information on reproductive health or if the school system provided sanitary towels to help keep poor girls in school and safe from exploitation.
All these are Kenyan women – and all their realities are different. But there are common things that shape their different realities. For example, the acceptance as norm that culture can override legislation; that discrimination and violence against women are inescapable realities that we just need to learn to live.
Is there Uhuru (freedom) for women in Kenya? Not yet for all women. Bado mapambano (the struggle continues).
Nancy Kanyago is a woman's rights activist in Kenya . She features in What do women's rights mean to you?, a multimedia production to mark the launch of TrustLaw Women.
Happy International Women’s Day from a very sunny Nairobi. Kenyan women have a lot to celebrate today, top among them a new constitution that recognizes their right to reproductive health, to own property, to pass citizenship to their children and spouses, one-third representation in all elected or appointed posts in government, the right to dignity, to non-discrimination, to emergency medical treatment, to food and water, among others.
But all is not rosy for women here. Last year, as the world was celebrating progress in reducing maternal deaths, data showed that Kenya had made no progress in saving the lives of women and girls during pregnancy, childbirth and the 42 days after delivery. 7,900 women die from preventable and treatable causes annually. The tragedy doesn’t end there. Many more suffer obstetric fistula, a terrible childbirth injury that leaves women incontinent. Currently 300,000 women and girls are living with untreated fistula.
Some good news: the new constitution gives much expanded ground to demand accountability for women’s maternal health. It requires the State to take measures (legislative, policy, or programmatic) to redress any disadvantages suffered by individuals or groups because of past systematic discrimination. In addition, it has provided mechanisms for accountability on the same, for example through public interest litigation. We have had some landmark rulings. For example, recently, civil society groups moved to court to stop appointments into key government positions arguing the constitution was violated because no woman had been nominated. The courts ruled in their favor. Another judge ruled in favor of a woman who was claiming a share of her father’s land.
We have a long way to go, but there is hope. www.hrw.org
@women_on_iwd wonderful pics very inspiring
Lets hope that the 'jasmine revolution' sweeping North Africa and the Middle East will lead to better female representation in all levels of the public sphere in those countries. Would be interesting to hear the perspective of women from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and others in the region.
Good evening from Delhi. Nita @TrustLaw here. Happy International Women's Day.
International Women's Day (8 March) is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.
Talking to friends in the UK today who are not in the civil society/media/government sector and most didn't know that it was IWD. Here in India, its been on local language radio stations, television stations, newspapers. It appears Indians are more aware than those in UK. Whats it been like in other countries?
Some fun things going on in India to mark today.
An all-women crew will operate a 15-hour non-stop flight from Delhi to Toronto on Tuesday, International Women’s Day.