For International Women’s Day (IWD), we are showcasing some of our Hugh James colleagues – asking them what IWD means to them. Caroline O’Flaherty, Commercial Property Partner, talks about the importance of solidarity.
In 1917, in Russia, International Women’s Day was the flashpoint for the Russian Revolution.
On 8 March (Western Calendar) women workers in Petrograd held a mass strike and demonstration demanding ‘Peace and Bread’. The strike movement spread and became an insurrection. The last Tsar was forced to abdicate and women won their right to vote. In 1922 Lenin declared 8 March officially women’s day.
Reflecting in current times, I can only feel how powerful those Russians ladies were standing together against inequality and tyranny. Kira Yarmyah, spokeswoman for jailed Russian opposition figurehead Alexi Navalny, has urged women to take to the streets today at 2pm to call for an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine and I hope they do so, though I know that action will not be without consequence.
I do not see International Women’s Day as the preserve of females I see it as an important symbol of solidarity. Solidarity can bring change.
Who could not be inspired by the solidarity of the Ukranians standing together in the face of great adversity, and darkness with the odds stacked against them? How much change in attitude has already been inspired by Zelensky and his people?
We all draw strength from commonality. It might be on the basis of gender, nationality, religion, or race. Coming from “Northern Ireland”, commonality can be complex. I have an Irish passport. I have a British passport. (I hasten to add this is legal). I have now lived longer in Wales than Ireland and, whilst I will always support the Irish against the Welsh in any 6 Nations match, the hair on the back of my neck always stands up to ‘Land of My Fathers’.
I am lucky to be able to take strength from the mix of experiences which have coloured my life and the people I have met along the way.
Looking back to when I was picking potatoes on my father’s farm outside Derry 40 odd years ago (not to be recommended for the fingernails by the way), would I have envisaged one day being a partner in Hugh James law firm in Cardiff? Definitely not.
At that early age, it was instilled that hard work will take you wherever you want to go. I didn’t stay in Northern Ireland after graduating because I actually believed hard work could only get you so far. Rightly or wrongly, I perceived the legal profession in Northern Ireland as misogynistic and all about nepotism. I wanted to go somewhere on my own merits. I thought Cardiff’s legal profession had evolved further. It was not without its bumps.
Maternity leave post 30 was a big shock. I had no idea why I was jigging about a community hall with a baby to jingle music to bond with other mothers I had nothing much in common with.
Coming back to work first time round with brain fog, a complete lack of confidence and wondering if I could even remember how to do a land registry application was a big shock. Threat of redundancy in 2010, after returning to work after baby number 2 was a bigger shock. The concept that you might not advance because your face didn’t fit and you don’t possess pearls and a twin set was probably the biggest shock.
I consider myself lucky. My husband, Mr O, and my biggest supporter told me to get my big pants on and look for another job – and I actually listened. Dave Roberts, the then head of commercial property at Hugh James and Peter Hurn offered me a job (it was my first CV in 16 years!) Finally, Mike Jones a former boss, good friend and mentor had given me a width of legal experience and opportunities that were second to none.
All the while I had the strength and support of a group of lady lawyers/surveyors/civil servants known as the VBs, who were there every step of the way and are still there today.
International Women’s Day for me is important not only as a celebration of women and the men who support us but also to ask ourselves some fundamental questions: Is there more we can all do for each other? Of course there is. Is there more change needed? Of course there is.
In this very noisy world we need to listen. We don’t really know what journey other people are on, or have been on.
We need to give those people who don’t have a voice, or a strong enough voice, time, and support.
We need to stand together to provide a source of strength and a momentum for change for the better.