On Saturday December 1st, TEDxUniversity of Edinburgh hosted their first event of the semester, a series of talks entitled “TEDxWomen: Showing Up,” in a nod to the annual TED Women’s conference, which was held two weeks ago in Palm Springs, California. The talks were divided into three themes: education and music, science, and activism, with one or two live talks accompanied by a couple of recorded videos from the main TED Women’s conference in each section.
The event began with a compelling speech by Diljeet Bhachu who spoke about the need for actively teaching colonial history in schools and explicitly recognising how the institutions in which we work and study benefited from their colonialist past and the slave trade. As a musical educator, she challenged the audience to question why our musical curricula disproportionately feature specific composers or artists – usually white men, who are given the spotlight in our musical education. Do school curricula do enough to teach us music and art from non-Western cultures in a way that recognises the long history of silencing and oppression that has often led to their exclusion from the mainstream? Her talk was followed by the projection of two performances from the TED Women conference: a mesmerising piece by Simona Abdallah, a self-taught Palestinian Danish percussionist, followed by the vibrant melodies of Flor de Toloache, the Latin Grammy award-winning female Mariachi band.
Elisha Jhoti, an integrated Masters Astrophysics student at the University of Edinburgh, headlined the science section with a very personal talk about the power of persistence, delving into her experiences as a woman in STEM. Whilst Jhoti began by highlighting the current under-representation of women in science and engineering, her talk was more of a call to action: through hard work and perseverance, women can achieve whatever they set out to do. She spoke of her journey to studying Astrophysics at university, and how she was able to finally land the internship at NASA that she had always dreamed about, even after being rejected the first time around, projecting a hopeful message to women and girls in science.
Graham Goulden, former Scottish police officer and Chief Investigator, spoke about the importance of the bystander effect, and the need for speaking up in the face of injustice. His presentation focused on how our silence can make us complicit in normalising harmful behaviour and comments of our peers, i.e. racist, bigoted, sexist, homophobic language while recognising that often this silence is driven by fear or not knowing how to respond. Goulden offered suggestions of ways a bystander can intervene without threatening their physical safety, emphasising that often the fears that stop us from speaking up against our peers are those of social consequence.
The final live talk was from Celia Hodson, co-founder of Hey Girls, a social enterprise tackling period poverty in the UK. Hey Girls operates a “buy one, give one” policy, matching every sale of a menstrual product with a donation to local women’s groups and shelters. Period poverty affects one in five women in Scotland, and Hey Girls is also working with the Scottish Government on their initiative to distribute free menstrual products in schools and universities. Although at times it seemed more of a sales pitch than a TED talk, Hodson’s words were informative, entertaining, and optimistic. Since their founding this January, they have already donated more than a million sanitary products across the UK. She ended her lively talk by throwing packs of pads, tampons, and menstrual cups into a very enthusiastic crowd.
Although the breadth of the topics covered by the talks was fantastic to see, the constant switching between live and recorded talks meant that the series felt a bit broken up, with not much continuity between the different sections. The event also lasted just under four hours and despite the intermission (featuring free doughnuts and other delicious snacks!) felt a bit too long. Yet, we all left having learnt something new, inspired to do further research on the topics and speakers that spoke to us the most, and confident in the knowledge that women everywhere are succeeding in doing what they love and tackling the challenges that our world faces today.
This post was written by Simone Eizagirre and edited by Karolina Zieba.