What #IWD2017 Means For Young Women In Care

Carly Women's Day resized

To mark International Women’s Day 2017, Carly discusses her experience of the care system as a young woman, and why she thinks care experienced girls should stand up and be counted for the Scottish care review.

Today is International Women’s Day 2017. A day of the year when women celebrate our achievements, and stand up for change. As a care experienced young woman, today is an opportunity for me to speak up about my experiences, what it means to grow up as a girl in the care system, and inspire other women to do the same.

Growing up in care as a young woman was difficult. I feel like I was robbed of a strong female figure, that others have in the form of a mum, aunty, or gran. I never had that lasting role model relationship, and so never got any guidance when it came to developing into a young woman. This impacts young women in the care system in lots of different ways, often, we feel unloved and rejected, which sometimes leads us to forge dangerous relationships to try and fill the gap. I want to help girls like this to avoid going down these unsafe paths. As women, we need to look out for one another, and call out unfair or dangerous situations when we see them.

The lack of a female role model in my life meant, for me, that I didn’t have anyone to celebrate my successes with or anyone to comfort me when I failed. As a woman in care I experienced a haze of faces that flashed in and out of my life. I believe if young women had a constant female role model, then the outcomes wouldn’t be so poor. Having someone there to turn to about relationships, your body, or how to navigate the world as a girl, would make a huge difference.

Handling prejudice and stereotypes is also something we have to deal with. I know first-hand what it’s like to be written off with no support whatsoever, because professionals, the people who were supposed to look out for me, decided I was a hysterical, hormonal girl. Almost 50% of people in care have mental health issues, yet I had to put myself in real danger to show I was in serious trouble, before anyone would listen to me, or consider that what I was saying was true. This made me feel helpless and like there was no one out there to help me with the issues I faced. Something so easily fixed caused me to go on a downward spiral until I decided something had to change. This is a perfect example of the complicated stigma that surrounds women and mental health.

Issues like these are so normalised and overlooked in society that a lot of women don’t understand the injustices that they endure on a day to day basis. Something as mundane as being told your skirt is too high by your foster carer, or you must wear a bra, is internalised misogyny not only in the care system but in society that many of us ignore.

Who Cares? Scotland will mark International Women’s day with a women’s heritage walk in Glasgow. Helping us fully appreciate the lengths women went to historically to achieve equality, and what they have contributed to our amazing city. The tour highlights the uncovering of scandal, vice, radicalism, regeneration, and revival.

This International Women’s Day, I’m walking to mark the inspiring and brave work women are doing globally to achieve equal rights, and mould more inclusive and tolerant societies. It’s important to pay tribute to those who fought against discrimination, violence and created equal opportunities for women. Women have not always shared the same rights, and in many respects still don’t. Today, I want to celebrate the women who have fought for progress, but not forget the inequality that still plagues our society.

This is particularly important for care experienced women, who deal with the stigma of their care experience, the likely abuse and neglect from their past, on top of the inequality of being a woman in society today. Like everyone, my upbringing honed my perspective on life. I’m very aware of the social injustices that women in care face, and the importance of holding the people in contact with us responsible for how they treat us. That’s why I’m so passionate about letting women’s voice be heard, to stop abuse, and challenge stigma.

The brand of a feminist is about being an advocate not only for your own rights, but for the female population. I won’t allow myself to be treated differently because of my gender so why should other young women? Asking these kinds of questions can be really freeing. I want all care experienced young women to be empowered, and share their stories of inequality they experienced in the care system.

Nicola Sturgeon is one of the most influential female role models that shapes greater change for women in Scotland. She’s pledged to listen to 1000 care experienced voices. I see this as an amazing opportunity for young women to speak up about their experiences and let their voices finally be heard. That way, we’ll have a care system that reflects the experiences of the young women it needs to support, to be happy, healthy and empowered members of society.

With thanks to Scottish Local Authorities, funding partners and donors who make our work possible.