Women of the Year Awards 2017: Prof. Catherine Harper's Speech
I am truly delighted to have been asked to make a short contribution to this award ceremony, and to be part of what is a wonderful evening organised by the University of Chichester’s Female Empowerment Society to celebrate the University’s female achievement and contribution.
As the still relatively new Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am proud of what this university has shown itself to be during the small number of weeks that I have been here. The values reflected by the University of Chichester student body, the Students’ Union, and the Female Empowerment Society, have chimed with me, the most important being inclusivity, equality and respect for diversity.
I believe that now, more than for a very long time, these values are incredibly important. We are in an historical global period when differences (of colour, race, creed, ability, status, sexuality, and culture) are met with growing suspicion and hostility, and where exclusion rather than inclusion is becoming increasingly normalised.
Our world, challenged by huge economic, social and political shifts, is forming a habit – a habit that is about asking why more than asking why not? And, sadly, where concepts and practices related to truth, justice, honesty and integrity are being eroded by falsehood, instability and ignorance. The family of humanity seems dysfunctional and in disarray.
Now, more than ever, we need those who are willing to look beyond their own experience and field of vision, and embrace – with curiosity, enthusiasm, and compelling freshness – the narrative threads woven by the complexities, compulsions and contradictions of diverse and equal people.
We need the energy and focus of empowered women, and those brothers who stand with us, to manifest the intellectual and practical transformations necessary to restore the health and well-being of humanity.
Women, who are the traditional protectors of the stories of that humanity; women who have the courage to speak out and speak up; women who celebrate, honour and lift up each other when times are tough, and women who recognise that the forces of patriarchy, prejudice and persecution are at the door and not in our midst.
By sisters, I mean – not one female, feminine, feminist woman – but the multiple and intersectional global tribe that is US. Women who demonstrate cultural, religious, sexual and ability diversity, who have skins of all hues, beliefs of all shades, experiences that are manifold, and gendered glories beyond compare…
On International Women’s Day 2017, at the closing party of a project called Dangerous Women, I was struck by the words of an older woman, who – amongst the poems and songs and laughter – said, “we don’t seek danger, it comes to us”. I thought in that moment about trans- and cis-gendered women, my sisters, near and far, who are without the basic freedoms of movement, expression, choice and to live, love and locate where they wish.
The night before that, I was here at University of Chichester when the Musical Theatre students performed an extravaganza of the work of female composers and lyricists; and ended – to many tears – with “I will Always Love you”. A song written by Dolly Parton, performed by Whitney Houston, and resonant for many women. What an incredible night!
And this evening, we are celebrating our female colleagues, tutors and union officers, who inspire and innovate, who make differences every day, and who keep the faith for equality, diversity, and inclusion in our educational environment.
To book tickets to the Women of the Year Awards 2018 click here.
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