Where are the sisters?

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and also calls for action to accelerate women’s equity. This year, the theme is #EmbracingEquity- giving everyone what they need to be successful, as opposed to giving everyone the same thing.

Dr Lilian Dogiama is the Head of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for the Cambridge International Education group, which includes Cambridge International, at Cambridge University Press and Assessment. On International Women’s Day, she gives a personal reflection on becoming a champion of change in her role and helping to create a more inclusive environment after years of exclusion and inequity.  

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is such a wholesome quote, and it redefined our core values in the aftermath of WWII. It was meant to be a document written to include all people and it largely achieves that. Except for that last word… ‘brotherhood’.

I can’t help but wonder, where are the sisters? Knowing that it was the product of another era, doesn’t make me feel less excluded as a woman.

My father was the first person to tell me that people will treat me differently just because of my gender. He kept empowering me and my sister to always feel equal to everyone else in the room and never be afraid to speak our minds. ‘Your mind is your power, Lily!’ he used to say. My mother would nod in agreement, but I could see her disbelief.

Having been brought up herself with several restrictions around who she could see, where she could go, and what job to do, just because of her gender, I could see she was worried.

In my teenage years and adulthood, I would be faced with various forms of stereotypes and gender bias in key facets of society, from starting my first job to having my first child.

Now, I am in a position to do something about this. I realise that I can’t change the world but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to change whatever I can. Being part of an organisation that takes inclusion seriously gives me the power and resources to do my best to improve the situation.

As the newly appointed Head of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for International Education, my focus remains on the communities of Cambridge students and teachers across the globe, as well as our workforce that works hard to provide our resources and programmes and manages our International exams.

I am working closely with my colleagues to improve our offerings by eliminating gendered language from our content and by promoting an equal representation of women and minority groups among other things. A lot more will be happening, and we will be keeping you up to date through our website and blog.

I cringe every time I hear ‘man’ or the pronoun ‘he’ as the default when referring to a group, and hearing the use of ‘mankind’, and ‘guys’ at team meetings that include women (I too am guilty of that one). I cringe because half of the world’s population is missing those words. Words matter because our experiences matter.

On this International Women’s Day, I say brothers are welcome, as are sisters and everyone in between!

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