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Community / International Women’s Day events celebrate the work of Shetland women

Celebrating women in STEM panellists were (left to right): HIE area manager Katrina Wiseman, Shetland Aerogenerators’ project manager Andi Grochowski, UHI Shetland principal Jane Lewis, SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison as well as the council’s climate change strategy team leader Claire Ferguson.

WITH celebrations to mark the 40 years of Shetland Women’s Aid and the event on women in STEM by Shetland Net Zero and UHI Shetland, Lerwick was blooming with inspiration and solidarity, celebrating the important and diverse work of women in Shetland, writes Erin Rizzato Devlin.

The 8th of March marks the annual celebration of all the women in our lives, but also sheds light on the importance of gender equality and raises awareness of violence against women.

International Women’s Day, in fact, has its roots in the struggles for women’s right to vote in elections, which go back to the suffragettes, and in the labour movements of the 20th century. Today (Friday), it is celebrated across the entire world and Shetland is nothing short of ready to welcome the occasion.

To mark this important day, the town was taken over by a number of events that celebrated the work of women on the islands and beyond, while reminding us that the path towards women’s rights and gender equality is still long and will require the contribution of us all.

Among these events, Shetland Net Zero Energy Forum and UHI Shetland joined forces to celebrate women who are pursuing careers or studies in science and engineering.

In the words of UHI Shetland’s principal Jane Lewis: “One of the main barriers for women getting into these positions is actually perception. This can be the perception that engineering is not for women, for example, so it’s important to understand that these jobs are for everyone.”

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This event took place in the Lerwick Town Hall between bringing together a cohort of women from the council, UHI Shetland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise around the theme of “inspiring inclusion”.

As well as pointing out the problems that women often encounter in environments or workplaces that are often male dominated, the discussion also focused on their role in the future energy transition.

“We have many targets and legal obligations to tackle climate change, but my biggest aspiration for reaching that point is that we increase the equality across communities in Shetland, nationally and globally,” said Claire Ferguson, who is in charge of the council’s climate change strategy.

Another event took place in the Flower Park pavilion to celebrate Shetland Women’s Aid 40th birthday; a long-standing institution in Shetland that has fought for women’s rights and provided support for victims of domestic abuse in the community throughout the years.

“Our 40th birthday was actually last year: we were planning to celebrate then but at the time we got snowed up. So this is our second attempt, we’re having a double celebration!” says Alison Kay Anderson, one of the fifteen members of staff who are the driving force behind Shetland Women’s Aid.

When reflecting upon the changes that have transformed Shetland Women’s Aid, Magdalena Gibson tells us about her experience over the last ten years.

“I have been working with Shetland Women’s Aid since 2013 and one important change I’ve noticed in this time is inter-agency cooperation, which allows us to support people in a more effective way,” she said.

“One of the main challenges for victims of domestic abuse is often that support may seem distant or inaccessible, as it is often easy to think that our work goes on behind the scenes.

“But this has changed in the last years, as we have become more open and we have embraced a more holistic and flexible approach, allowing Shetland Women’s Aid to help more women in need of support.”

As people joined in and took leave, the room was also filled with stories and memories from some of the founding members of Shetland Women’s Aid who were present during the celebrations.

These stories uncovered the admirable strength of these women, some pregnant at the time and in full time jobs, who came together to help other members of the community that were victims of domestic abuse.

When the charity was originally founded in March 1983, in fact, all members were volunteering and the organisation started as a gathering of these volunteer women “around the kitchen table”.

The importance of celebrating women’s day in our times must not be forgotten, especially in light of recent local and global events showing us that these issues are very much present.

Through today’s celebrations and these examples of solidarity and mutual aid, Shetland showcases its local history of women’s attempts to change their world for the best.

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