I’m a woman, a bricklayer, and I want change!

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Mette Schak Dahlmann, Danish Confederation of Trade Unions

Maybe my everyday life would have been a lot easier if I had been born male – but I wasn’t.

My name is Mette, I’m a woman, a trained bricklayer, and I’m gay.

Growing up playing soccer, wearing clothes that weren’t ‘girly’, educated in the ‘wrong’ profession, walking and talking the ‘wrong’ way, and constantly being told what I can and what I can’t do.

The standards of what is normal and what is acceptable always restricted me. I felt different and left out!

I always thought about becoming a bricklayer, but I didn’t dare to tell anyone, because how could I explain my choice and direction in life?  They’d say; “why on earth do you want to work in a men’s world and job? It’s not something for you, you are a girl”.

Despite people’s doubts about my choice, I still managed to complete an education and become a bricklayer. I even received the highest accolade the day I got my degree.  In my part of Denmark I was only the second person in 13 years to achieve the highest grade possible. But it didn’t do any good – because who wants to hire a woman?

So even though I made it – I got an education and a special distinction – I still feel different and left out, like I’m a guest in my own profession.

Apparently, the combination of my gender and my job makes me something different, something negative, and because of that I can’t stop speaking up!

I want to be accepted for the work of my hands and not defined as a problem, a weird, un-talented, human being. Because I know I am talented at my job, and I am proud of it.

This is all about ‘us’ and ‘we’, not ’I’ and ‘me’. No one can do it alone. Everything is connected. Laws can be made, organizations can have the best intentions. But if things are to change, we must all take action, together – the majority as well as minorities. We have to reach out, to people outside our own group, and listen to role models who can tell their stories.

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And remember that those people like me that speak out and say something new, we need others to have our back. The labour unions around the world can have an enormous impact in helping people like me find the courage to speak up and make others aware there is a need for change. Solidarity. That’s what I personally think is the key for this to change.

We all change if we see and feel through another persons’ eyes. If we just talk, or if we never reach out to other groups, people don’t know they need to change.

A small, true, story, coupled with solidarity on all levels can start big changes for all of us.

Mette Schak Dahlmann was a panellist at an International Women’s Day discussion at the ILO, focusing on the new report “A Quantum Leap for Gender Equality: For a Better Future of Work for All”

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