In our last blog Hazel Reeves talked about becoming the sculptor of Manchester’s newly unveiled statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Until ‘Our Emmeline’, 16 out of 17 statues across the city were men, the single woman being Queen Victoria; her statue in Piccadilly Gardens was unveiled over 100 years ago, before women even had the right to vote.
Hazel’s been involved in women’s rights activism globally, and we wanted to find out more. We asked her about what being a woman means to her and what she feels is needed to create female empowerment in the workplace.
Our network seeks to empower women, and encourages our members to push for equality – what does empowerment and equality mean to you as a woman?
When I worked promoting gender equality, I had colleagues who spent a lot of time tousling with definitions of empowerment in relation to women. So I thought I would cheat and nick one of their definitions (from Rosalind Eyben, Naila Kabeer and Andrea Cornwall in 2008): ‘Empowerment is fundamentally about power – about the power to redefine our possibilities and options and to act on them, the power within that enables people to have the courage to do things they never thought themselves to be capable of, and the power that comes from working alongside others to claim what is rightfully theirs’. And it can’t be a top-down process.
For me, gender equality and women’s empowerment is about transformation – transforming gender power relations. It’s not enough to give women equal opportunities to men as there isn’t a level playing field. We have to demand and ensure equality of life outcomes. This means we first have to challenge discrimination and violence against women, and we have to challenge limiting gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes and behaviour.
I’m sure Aspire is much-needed. I’ve yet to find an organisation where [a network of this kind] is not needed. The time is right to push harder for gender equality – remember that there is no justice without gender justice.
What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and how did it shape who you are?
It wasn’t advice as such, but I saw my mum, only educated until she was aged 14, do spectacular things in addition to bringing up me and my two sisters. She was a racing cyclist and won medals in national races. She founded and ran a bird hospital for over 40 years. She was a book collector and bric-a-brac dealer. She did a BA in her 60s at Surrey University. She showed me that women could do whatever they put their mind to, and not only that – they could excel.
A piece of advice I received later in life was actually a quotation by George Eliot on a greetings card. She says ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ It was a risk changing career from a well-paid research manager promoting women’s rights, to becoming an artist. But George Eliot inspired me all the way, and now I’m very happy as a full-time sculptor, working to commission, doing what I should have always done but not regretting my rather convoluted route to my final destination.
For more information on the WoManchester project, visit https://www.womanchesterstatue.org/.