Government of Jersey celebrates International Women’s Day

Understanding what the Government of Jersey could do to celebrate International Women’s Day brings to mind a line from the film, Jaws.

It’s the moment in the film when the police chief gets his first look at the size of the Great White Shark that’s terrorising the seas around Amity Island and understands that their task (to catch the shark using what he now realises is a somewhat undersized vessel), is not a simple or straightforward one.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” is the famous line delivered by the chief to the salty sea captain that perfectly sums up their situation, as it does for a Public Service looking to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) and showcase the achievements of the women who work here.

That’s why we’re not only celebrating International Women’s Day in Government. For us, it’s a week of celebrations.

Of course, a week wouldn’t be enough time for us to feature the huge number of inspiring and altogether remarkable women in the public service either, but it’s our way of using “a bigger boat” to mark the milestone.

Following IWD’s global theme of Embracing Equity and by making inclusion central to everything we do, all this week we’re telling the stories of a group of women who work across Government and whose experiences and achievements highlight just that idea.

While their stories demonstrate that women in the public service can achieve anything in any role thanks to the pioneers who went before them, they also serve as timely reminders that in order for plenty more to follow in their footsteps, everyone needs to understand the difference between equity and equality.

International Women’s Day is a call to action for all of us to continue to make progress on the journey to gender equality and for all of us to think differently. This year’s global theme is about embracing equity, as the ultimate goal for a better, fairer society. Equity acknowledges that people don’t begin life in the same place, and that circumstances can make it more difficult for people to achieve the same thing. Ultimately, it is about promoting equality of outcomes, rather than promoting equality of opportunities.

According to the IWD website: “Equity can be defined as giving everyone what they need to be successful. In other words, it’s not giving everyone the same thing. If we give everyone the same thing, expecting that will make people equal, it assumes that everyone started out in the same place – and this can be vastly inaccurate because everyone isn’t the same.”

The theme of IWD this year is about acknowledging that some people face systematic and structural barriers to achieving. That’s why it’s about equity and not equality. Both are important, but they are different.

This can be best summed up by the saying: “Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes. Equity is giving everyone shoes that fit.”

Ciara O’Rafferty’s journey from working in a pharmacy to becoming a trainee Prison Officer is an inspiring case in point.

24-year-old Ciara, who’s also an Irish troupe dancing teacher, worked in the pharmacy for seven years and is now on a gruelling 10-week training programme to become a Prison Officer. 

She’s on the “intense” course because she wanted to challenge herself and do something different. But she’s also on it because she had the opportunity and confidence to apply. Now she (and the service more broadly) wants other women to follow suit.

Her message is clear: “If any other women were thinking of coming to work in the prison, I’d say definitely come along. When the next awareness day is on, pop down and come and have a chat with us, and definitely look into it and get involved because it is a great role. There are lots of ladies here already and we’d love to see some more.”

Tatum Burgess, Principal External Relations Officer Europe, and who works out of Jersey’s London office, is another trailblazer.

She worked for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) for over 20 years in a role that took her to lots of overseas locations where she faced situations and cultures where women did not play a prominent role.

Her experiences reflect how tough this would be for anyone, along with the particular challenges she faced as a woman. Her story further underlines the difference between equity and equality and why understanding it matters.

She said: “It’s hard to put into words the experience of flying in a military helicopter over a warzone or being subjected to a rocket attack for the first time. It was an amazing experience but meant working long hours, being away from family and dealing with some very harrowing subject matter. It provides one with a very different view of the world.

“I loved working for the MOD but over the years there were challenges. There is almost a dual culture from working alongside the military which is necessarily hierarchical. This can be hard to fit into as a civilian and you have to go that much further to prove your credibility and build trust.”

Lisa May is a former Dental Nurse who is now a Family Liaison Coordinator with the States of Jersey Police who has been working with families involved in the recent tragedies.

She’s been with the SoJP for 13 years after initially applying because she wanted a job where she could use her problem-solving skills and work somewhere that she could help people rebuild and restore faith after difficult experiences, so she could leave a positive mark on someone’s life.

“I find being a police officer incredibly rewarding because we touch so many lives. People come to the police for help when they are at their most vulnerable most of our action is because of someone finding themselves as a victim of crime or at a low point in their lives, I can help them get over this bad situation,” she said.

“As a woman working for SoJP I have never felt in the minority or undervalued being a female. I have had the same opportunities as my male counterparts and have grasped every one of them!”

While we’ve turned a day into a week, the Government’s commitment to equity for women is permanent. But it’s about doing, not saying and one of the ways we are continuing to deliver on this pledge is through the activities of various staff networks we’ve established.

One of them is the Inspiring Women into Leadership and Learning (I WILL) Network which aims to embrace equity by shining a light on the issues that may act as a barrier to women’s career progression and offering opportunities to overcome these barriers.

Women across the organisation are currently being consulted to develop a work programme that will continue to engage members and affect positive change in the Government of Jersey. They are being asked what’s important for them and to help to shape the future of I WILL.

So much for a bigger boat. We’re building an armada.

Here is the link to Ciara’s video: (2) International Women’s Day week: #EmbracingEquity with Ciara O’Rafferty – YouTube

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