For International Women's Day, we chose to interview the inspirational women that we know. Today we have Mary Hamilton who is Community Action Bradford & District's Ilkley Office Manager. She is well regarded in the Ilkley area so if you're reading this and know Mary, let her know you've seen it!

Can you tell us a little bit about your role and your journey to get there?

I work in the Ilkley Office of Community Action Bradford & District, an infrastructure organisation providing development support to organisations in the voluntary and community sector. This help is particularly significant for small voluntary groups which rely solely on volunteers but still provide valuable services to the community. I provide advice and practical support as well as signposting towards specialised help from my colleagues and other organisations.
My first 20 years at work were with the health service, firstly as a Dental Therapies 'drilling and filling' children's teeth in the School Dental Clinic and doing dental health talks in school where my rendition of Dan Decay and Percy Plaque, popular characters in my story telling, was worthy of an Oscar! Dental Health talks to 600 trainees at the local shipyard included powerful slide performances, except for sessions after lunch when some would fall asleep in the relative warmth and darkness despite my enthusiasm about preventing gum disease. However, I mainly worked in the health promotion sector where I really enjoyed the variety and challenges.
In those days, I was privileged to be a health service worker whose role reached into the local community and particularly to voluntary groups so it was inevitable I would move into that sector. My role involved running a mental health day centre for Mind, as well as a 6 bedroom residential unit for people with long term mental health conditions.
In 2004, I moved to Yorkshire with my family and worked in the voluntary and community sector, firstly in Skipton and for the last 15 years in Ilkley. I've been based in the same office, at the same desk, working alongside a variety of wonderful volunteers under the organisational names of ICVS, KIVCA and now Community Action. The work has generally been the same, only the name has changed. Over recent years I feel the voluntary sector is increasingly recognised as an equal and essential partner in the community and local councillors are beginning to open up and work with us more. This has never been more evident than when we all came together during the Covid pandemic where health, local and district councils, voluntary groups, schools, faith groups and individuals worked together for the good of the community.

Can you share an example of when you chose to challenge?

I cannot pick one challenge - so many come to mind and I admit, some of them got me into difficult situations. However, I would still do the same. If it felt right then, it will be right at another time, maybe with a more mature head I might stop to think first! To challenge is important - I know people want a quiet life but change often comes with challenge. It is important for women to show their commitment, to choose to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes and help to forge an inclusive world.

Which women have inspired you and why?

There are so many women that I could choose but I will pick the social reformer Emmeline Pankhurst who founded the women's Social and Political Union to campaign for the parliamentary vote for women in Edwardian Britain - 'Deeds not words' being its motto. Emmeline roused thousands of women to demand their democratic right in a mass movement that has been unparalleled in British History.
The real heroes were the ordinary suffragettes, unknown to us, but still took up the challenge, were imprisoned and even died for the cause. Women around the world are taking on challenges daily such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women in a multitude of ways - big and small.

What are you most proud of?

Of course, I am going to say my two daughters - they are my pride and joy. I am lucky to have such wonderful memories to share with them as they grew up and as they now flee the nest I watch them make their way into the world. They work in a world which is so different from mine, with so many paths they can take and opportunities that are possible. However, their generation will have to bear the brunt of many challenges; paying student loans off for their working lifetime; they may never be able to own a house; coping with disrupted education and career journeys. However, like every generation before them, they will rise to the challenges and I hope be happy in what life offers them.

Why is it important for you and your organisation to recognise International Women's Day?

International Women's Day is a time to focus on the many issues that affect women across the world and to appreciate the efforts they made in the past to enable us to be where we are now, even if we still have a long way to go. There are times when I may read or watch something that tells the story of a young girl or woman and you sit in disbelief that these inequalities continue in our world today. Women have been devalued, objectified, threatened and brutalised over millennia but we have seen women break through these challenges and rise up to make their mark in the world. People such as Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Bernadette Devlin, Michelle Obama, Tanni Grey Thompson and Lizzo remind us of the challenges ordinary women face in our multimedia world.

For International Women's Day, what is the most important message you want to give to women thinking about a career in the voluntary sector?

Do it - that's one challenge that you won't regret. The voluntary sector is so diverse, invigorating and self-affirming, why wouldn't you want to jump in feet first?