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To mark International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8th March, women Councillors came together to talk to colleagues via a livestream event. The event was chaired by Cllr. Catherine Fookes, Cabinet Member for Equalities who was joined by Council Leader, Cllr. Mary Ann Brocklesby, Cllr. Su McConnel, Cllr. Lisa Dymock, Cllr. Rachel Garrick, Cllr. Angela Sandles and Cllr. Penny Jones.  All shared their experiences, explained what inspires them and provided advice to other women.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was ‘embracing equity’ and it saw events taking place to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about discrimination and take action to drive gender parity.

Cllr. Catherine Fookes launched the event, saying: “International Women’s Day is a chance for us to celebrate how far we’ve come in terms of women’s equality, but also to think about everything that remains to be done in terms of gender equality, because we aren’t there yet.”

Recounting her childhood, growing up on a small farm, she said: “That shaped me, right at the beginning of my life, into thinking about fairness and the need to protect the environment. I went on to become a campaigner. I’m now CEO of the Women’s Equality Network, and our vision is for a Wales free from gender discrimination.”

Cllr. Fookes went on to explain that while Wales is doing well, with 43% of MS candidates selected at the last election being women, of the 22 Council leaders in Wales, only four are women.

Monmouthshire County Council’s Leader, Cllr. Mary Ann Brockleby said: “If we want to achieve equality, we need equity and fairness to get us to the point where we are taken seriously. Growing up as one of eight kids, I never felt heard. So, wherever I went, I alway tried to raise my voice.”

A love of visiting the library and reading books gave Mary Ann the sense that “women could do things differently, that people could do things differently, that life could be different and that knowledge was there waiting to be opened.”

Cllr. Brocklesby, who has spent 30 years working in International Development on human rights and gender rights, credits her mother for giving her sound advice while she was growing up – to get an education and to aim for financial independence. “I have also been buoyed up by the solidarity of women around me – my sisters, neighbours, friends – and it’s for that reason that I know women will help other women. It’s my duty to do that as I move through the world. Every success I have had, it is because of the women behind me – my mother, grandmother, sisters and every woman that  have supported me on this journey.

I think on International Women’s Day, I would like to embrace equity, embrace the fact that we all have a voice and let’s hold out our hand to another woman, another girl, and say you can do it,” Cllr Brocklesby added.

Cllr. Su McConnel, Ward Member for Croesonen in Abergavenny, said: “Decades of working in the probation service has taught me that human nature is in essence to be decent, kind and caring. I’m going to read a quote from a Pakistani activist called Malala Yousafzai, who is the youngest person to every receive a Nobel Prize. She said: ‘I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.’ And I think that’s the job of a representative – I would say to women who are keen to explore a career in politics, do it, start that conversation… just find a woman in politics that you admire and reach out.”

Cllr. Penny Jones, Ward Member for Raglan, discussed who influenced her, starting from her days at Abersychan Grammar School: “My first influence was a political history teacher, who really forced you to debate and reason and it formed in me a real love of politics.” After many years working in nursing, Penny trained to be a health and social care lecturer, helping people become nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, amongst other caring roles.  “To help someone, have a little input to their life is very satisfying… at the end of the day, there’s no job that a woman cannot do.”

Cllr. Lisa Dymock, Ward Member for Portskewett said: “If someone told me 10 years ago that I’d be in my second term as a councillor, I would never have believed it. I wouldn’t have achieved this without being surrounded by inspirational colleagues who have encouraged me along the way. The biggest inspiration for my political career is former Deputy Leader of the Council, Sara Jones. Sara taught me that as community leaders we must call to action women across Monmouthshire to make a positive difference to ensure women have opportunities. I want every woman and girl to believe in themselves and feel like they belong and they can play a part in their community.”

Cllr. Angela Sandles, Cabinet Member for Engagement shared her experiences and highlighted her role as a foster carer as well as a councillor: “I would like to thank all of the women who make a difference in Monmouthshire every day. As a foster carer I know the huge, positive impact you have on children and young people. For anyone who’s considering fostering please do contact our team today.”

Cllr. Rachel Garrick, Cabinet Member for Resources said: “I want to shout out some of the women who have hugely supported me through my life and my career. I’m from the Valleys and nobody in my family had ever been to university before. Some of the women that taught me at university were amazing and encouraging. They opened up the world for me.”

Rachel, who along with Mary Ann Brocklesby was recently included in the Gwent Women’s Hall of Fame, has worked in engineering for 30 years including as Lead Independent Nuclear Assurance Assessor at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station project. Rachel was inspired to get into politics after working with trade unions and said: “Women are a huge force for making changes, putting measures and legislation in place that works for women in the workplace, for families, and for society as a whole.

“My final message is don’t be limited by the perception of society. Reach for your goals, you can absolutely make it, and there are so many women out there that will lean in on the way and support you,” said Cllr. Garrick.

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