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Shaped By Experience: International Women’s Day

Dial House @Touchstone and Group Support Worker Shayam shares some reflections on a formative family member this International Women’s Day.



For International Women’s Day I would like to pay tribute to my grandmother, Zakiya El Reidy, born December 12th 1918 in Egypt. I only have a couple memories of my grandmother, but I have often heard people talk of her at family gatherings; it is what I’ve heard over the years growing up that have had an impact on me and inspired me in certain areas of my life. She has been described as being “ahead of her time”, “strong”, “brave”, and “an advocate for women’s rights”. Through her own negative experiences as a child she realised that being female often meant unfair and unequal treatment, such as her not being allowed to attend university like her brothers.

It seems many of these experiences shaped who she became. Understanding male privilege, she made sure her daughters had the same opportunities as her son’s. She was very aware that education was the key for women to be able to occupy the positions in society they wanted. One of her daughters graduated with an Economics degree and the second daughter became a consultant child psychiatrist. Zakiya was “logical”, “intelligent”, “practical”, “determined” and had a great sense of humour, she did not conform to the female norms at the time and this is what I admire the most, she kept true to what she believed was right: equality.

The theme for 2021 internationals women’s day is “Choose To Challenge”. I have always tried to challenge social injustice, discrimination and oppression, at the moment I co-facilitate a mental health support group where women from ethnically diverse backgrounds share, talk, express, laugh, and reflect on experiences that can be painful and difficult. Sexism is a feature of some of these conversations and empowering women to see their true value and not being defined by “an experience”, is important to me. Every time we meet, I choose to challenge the pressure society has put on women as well as the pressures we put on ourselves.