I am delighted to contribute to Parliament Week as a ‘blogger’ and to share my life experiences which made me the woman I am in 2013 – a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, sister-in-law, aunty, great aunt, retired headteacher, sometime administrator, enthusiastic golfer, soroptimist and friend!
My childhood was a very happy one in a large extended family living in one of the most beautiful parts of the south coast of England. My maternal grandmother and great-grandmother had actively supported the suffragette movement so my mother naturally encouraged her daughters to use their vote. It didn’t stop there though as my mother was involved in various community based organizations including local politics. Due to her involvement I am proud to say that I became very familiar with operating a local election by the age of thirteen! So I am particularly pleased to see Parliament Week promoting ‘Women in Democracy’; as far as I am concerned I always use my democratic right by voting but I am also aware that many women in the UK today are shy of expressing any concerns which are rooted in political decisions including using their vote.
We all remember a teacher that really influenced our life’s aspirations, I can think of two who taught me at Grammar School: Miss Cowle, an extraordinary English teacher who could hold a conversation in Medieval English, not much use to me but her expertise in the English language ensured me a good pass at ‘O’ Level; Miss Salter, an enthusiastic Geography teacher who (progressively) used visual aids to teach physical geography and her tales of worldwide holidays which gave me a thirst for travel and to grab every opportunity that life threw at me. These are just two of my many teachers who approached their careers as a vocation.
During my mid-teenage years I spent much of my time in hospital with an unknown medical condition which like many virus’ today disappeared of its own accord eventually. With so much interruption to my education and having met my future husband I married and started my family at a comparatively young age. By my mid-twenties I had two children and loved it as I had loads of energy to deal with their demands; I really don’t understand how women today manage the demands of work and being a mum in their thirties and forties and I take my hat off to them.
As my children became school age, and being the long term planner of the family, I believed that it would benefit us all if I returned to my studies and make use of the excellent education which I had received. I had recently met an old school friend who was teaching and who persuaded me that it was a very fulfilling and family friendly career. I took A Levels whilst studying in the evenings at the local college and gained a place at the local Institute of Higher Education to study for my BA Degree, the latter required much burning of midnight oil so my very supportive husband turned the garden shed into a study. Following this I trained and had a successful career in Primary Education furthering my studies to Master’s Degree level and hopefully inspiring many children to fulfil their aspirations in life.
And so to retirement and an even bigger learning curve when I was introduced to Soroptimist International, a Non-Government Organization (NGO), which raised awareness about women’s issues worldwide. I cannot emphasize how my eyes were opened to the plight of women in other areas of the globe and their daily struggle to survive and provide for their families. Through the many projects that I have been involved in with soroptimists the same conclusion is drawn – that women who enjoy suffrage in a democracy are more than half way to providing a better life for their families, friends, work environment, than those who are deprived of the privilege. I cannot name individual soroptimists who have influenced me as there are so many but I would like to thank my daughter, Samantha Acton, who took me to a businesswomen’s network meeting where I met a soroptimist!
Finally, life would not be any fun though without our men and I would especially thank my husband for always being there and encouraging me in my interests – even on the golf course!
Penny Bartlett, President, Soroptimist International Southern England.