Cllr Kadeema Woodbyrne, Islington Council
Cllr Kadeema Woodbyrne, Islington Council's Women and Girls Champion

Cllr Kadeema Woodbyrne, Clerkenwell Ward Councillor and Islington Council’s Women and Girls Champion, blogs ahead of International Women’s Day:

This week, ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, I have spoken at a range of events to celebrate and champion women and girls across Islington.

It has given me time to reflect on the impressive and powerful Islington women who have come before me and have blazed a trail. Impressive women who were born or have lived in our borough have made their presence felt in a vast range of fields. From early suffragettes to culture and the arts, they have left their mark.

Edith Garrud was Islington’s famous suffragette. In the run-up to World War One, Edith became a jiu-jitsu instructor to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), better known as the Suffragettes, who were forging an increasingly violent campaign for votes for women. Sick of the lack of progress, they resorted to civil disobedience, marches and illegal activities including assault and arson.

Next week, the Council is unveiling a plaque to commemorate Andrea Levy, novelist and chronicler of the British Caribbean experience, who was born and grew up in Islington.

In more recent times, Islington has produced two of the most famous winners of the X Factor. Both Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke were born in Islington, honing their incredible talents before winning the TV contest and going onto enjoy wildly successful careers. They both attended St Mary’s Youth Club on Upper Street with Islington rapper, singer and actress Little Simz. She starred in last year’s Netflix series, Top Boy.

Our Council has had famous women lead it, such as Dame Margaret Hodge and Catherine West, who have both gone onto success as Labour MPs in the House of Commons, joining our pioneering Islington South and Finsbury MP, Emily Thornberry.

In 2018, I was proud to be part of a majority of Islington Labour councillors elected who were women, including nearly half of those BAME women. Increasing representation and ensuring women’s voices are heard loud and clear. On top of that, our current Mayor, Cllr Rakhia Ismail, is the first Somali-born woman to hold the position of Mayor in the UK.

Islington’s Labour-run Council is determined to make our borough a better and fairer place for women and girls to grow up, work and live. I was proud to be appointed the first Women and Girls Champion in London, in 2018.

Last year I was proud to speak in favour of the Women’s Night Safety Charter at Full Council. The Charter includes seven pledges based on the pillars of reporting, responding, taking responsibility and redesigning public spaces, making the borough a safer and more welcoming place for women at night.

But while we have made significant progress, we know there is still much more to do. Women and girls continue to face harassment, discrimination and violence in their everyday lives, as well as persistent negative stereotypes about our achievements and abilities.

Our Fairness Commission found that women in Islington can expect to live to the age of 81, less than the England average and the fourth lowest in London. Through creating a fairer Islington, we can make our borough a better place for women to grow up and thrive.

In this year’s Budget, we promised to spend around £2m over the next three years to properly tackle violence against women and girls. VAWG is a scourge that impacts far too many women across our society and I’m glad this Council is taking it seriously.

Women and girls in our borough still face barriers to reaching their full potential and it is vital we continue to break down those barriers. As a young woman growing up in Islington, I have learned a number of lessons that have got me to where I am today and that I want future generations to be able to take on. They are:

  1. Pull up a seat at the ‘table’ and use it
  2. Don’t be afraid to be yourself
  3. Knowledge is power, continue to be a student of the world
  4. Use everything as an opportunity to grow and learn
  5. Lead by example…there is always a next generation
  6. Do everything to the absolute best of your ability
  7. Be kind to yourself
  8. Breakdown the walls of fear created around you
  9. Mistakes are to be learned from and used as a tool for your progress
  10. Never dull/dim your light.
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