4 women who have made a difference in North Somerset

Fiona Matthews.

Fiona Matthews. - Credit: PAUL BLAKEMORE

Today marks International Women's Day.

For 2022, the celebration has a theme of 'beating the bias'.

The Mercury and Times has asked just some of the county's notable women what the day means to them.

Fiona Matthews.

Fiona Matthews. - Credit: PAUL BLAKEMORE

Fiona Matthews - director of Theatre Orchard and Culture Weston

"I have been at the forefront of Theatre Orchard’s development since its first incarnation as a small project in 2007. For a long time it was a hand-to-mouth freelance career path, developing projects that felt important to communities and finding ways to make them happen.

"As a mother of four young children, practical and financial necessity meant that my working hours would often be in the early hours of the morning or from their bedtime until late into the evening. This was really challenging at times, and will-power and coffee definitely played a role!

"One of our first projects was with new mums on the Bournville Estate, exploring the theme of female empowerment through Greek myth, providing free childcare provision to enable attendance. Many of these original members, babies included (now young adults!), still attend our weekly drama provision today.

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"Theatre Orchard’s Director of Engagement Angela Athay-Hunt delivered that project - she too was a new mum - and our shared experiences fuelled a passion to keep building an organisation that enabled everyone to access creative experiences regardless of circumstance.

"At Theatre Orchard we also programme professional arts, and I’ve always been very mindful to ensure that female artists and creatives are well represented. The good news is that this has become much easier over time.

"In the 1990s, as Arts Sponsorship Manager for Sainsbury’s, I was involved with national visual arts projects and exhibitions where women artists were consigned to the margins. My bubbling indignation wasn’t widely echoed, and looking back, management infrastructures in many arts institutions were pretty male (not to mention the pantheon of art history).

"You just wouldn’t get away with that today, we expect more, and that’s to be celebrated."

Clare Morris.

Clare Morris. - Credit: Clare Morris

Clare Morris - Weston town councillor and owner of Good & Proper Zero Waste store

"The three questions I get asked often are: How are you going to manage, or how do you juggle it all, which translates to how are you going to parent and run a business and be a councillor, with the subtext often being should you be doing all that because you are a woman and a parent. The answer is yes if you’re wondering! And the classic…can I speak to the owner.

"And I wonder - would you ask any of them if I were a man? Probably not. But that sort of gender bias just spurs me onto create the life I want my daughter to be proud of, I want her to look at me and think yes, I can do whatever I want to do.

"I have built a strong sense of agency over my own life but this has come from working hard to feel equal in a world where men are seen often as the driving force behind most successful businesses and where it is men who take up the majority of the seats in decision making positions from the top down. 

"I am passionate about being a woman in a position of enabling change, from the perspective of a Town Councillor, of a business woman and of a parent because education is the key to change. And yes I still have to work harder I still have to shout a little louder although I might be accused of ‘getting emotional’ definitely not something men would ask each other is it, but maybe they should.​"

Bev & Sarah Milner-Simmonds.

Bev & Sarah Milner-Simmonds. - Credit: Bev & Sarah Milner-Simmonds

Bev and Sarah Milner-Simmonds - eat:Festival organisers 

"We are eat:Festivals, a social enterprise led by two women - powered by surprisingly good cake. In our work we aim to celebrate great local food and drink producers regardless of their gender.

"But we don’t live in a world that is gender equal. Yet. We want to work and live in a world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. In a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. In a world were difference is valued and celebrated. We know that together we can forge women’s equality and collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

"In our work we celebrate diversity of taste preferences and predictions. Making sure we provide omnivores, carnivores and we don’t know what they called yet vores is vital to creating inclusive food and drink events.

"Our events welcome everyone and we hope that by working together and valuing difference we can make it all just a little bit better than yesterday."