Councillor Claire Udy shares why International Women’s Day is important to her, and why we should all celebrate and support women, every day.
I have always been politically inclined. From the moment I sat in playground at senior school with ‘No War’ tippexed on my backpack in protest of Tony Blair’s war in Iraq, to right now where I am a City Councillor, standing up for local residents. I never did things by halves and this is one of the reasons why I am here, because the switch in my head that says ‘Off’ was disabled when I was little: disabled because I was encouraged to be myself and not give a damn about what other people think.
When I was younger my parents worked in a trade that involved a lot of night work, and in turn I spent a lot of time with my nan, who lived in Paulsgrove. She moved there after the war and died there in 2011. She was born in Portsea, a daughter to an English man and Italian immigrant. My nan looked after me most weekends and in the holidays. I was a firm regular at the Age Concern shop in the late ’90s where my nan used to hang out with other people her age. She seemed to know them all from when they all moved into Paulsgrove too, after the big post-war rebuild of Britain. She was the kind of matriarch who lived to serve her family and she inspired me to follow my dreams. She made me walk around with a book on my head because she thought I was tall enough to be a model and read my stories that I would constantly write (to be fair, I only wrote them because I wanted to get out of watching Little House on the Prairie). We would dance around the room to her eclectic record selection and to this day I cannot listen to ‘Shaddap You Face’ without crying because she loved that song whilst everybody else hated it. Also, just like any other nan she had this complete ability to make the ‘Best Roast Dinner in the World’, and I am not ashamed to say I would give my politics up if I could only emulate her cooking.
My nan is my main inspiration. She used to be proud of me just because I had a job in a pub, a job that barely paid me any money and I had no way of moving out of my parents’ house. She taught me to be kind, and to not matter whatever hand you got in life.
We should not care about what our hand is, but in an age of gross inequality I have seen council estates go from a thriving hub of community spirit and solidarity into a place where austerity has taken hold. People are living in destitution and in turn even children are being groomed into a life of crime. Public services for families have and still are being taken away from us and most of us are so depressed that we do not have the will to fight. I fight on their behalf because I know the importance of being in it together and picking up the work that some may be unable to do. This is in turn one of the reasons why we celebrate International Women’s Day because we remember the ongoing struggle and what we are going to do about it.
I know fabulous women who want to teach kids to cook for free. I know fabulous women who have dedicated their working life to the trade union movement. I know fabulous women that despite having to access food banks, still spend their time doing important youth work for free. I know fabulous women who in retirement are working themselves stupid just so their communities have a place to go and are looked after. I know fabulous women who despite chronic illness, got up and said a resounding ‘fuck you’ to Universal Credit and started up a group to help others. I know fabulous women that despite the closure of their local baby group, volunteered to keep theirs going for the sake of other mothers. I know fabulous women who despite struggling with severe mental health issues, spent their time running support groups for others. I know fabulous women that were born men, and I respect who they are and proudly call them a sister.
I also know fabulous women whose biggest victory of the day was just getting out of bed. Some days that is me. I know fabulous women who, despite the positive reinforcement, find it hard to integrate and just sit at home staring at the walls thinking of every possible situation that will never happen in their head. Some days that is me. I know fabulous women who struggle every day with mental illness. That person is me.
This is why we celebrate our achievements with other women, because sometimes it is just so hard to do so on our own. I have spoken on my page about little victories before and I want you to continue to tell me them. Let us praise each other. Even your biggest victories. I want to applaud every single one of you. Even if you send me a private message, I promise to respond. The more we work together, then the more chance we have to rise up to challenge issues like austerity because we will all have each other’s backs.