When I first moved to Manchester with my family all I knew was that George Best lived here! In retrospect I think he had already moved on, but he cast a giant shadow. Later I realised that the city was not only the home of football, but of radicalism and of a multi-cultural population which has grown richer over the years.
The first industrial city saw women employed in factories – bringing the burden of the double shift of work and home, but also giving some women the freedom of their own earnings. And for a newcomer this legacy showed in the hard working, loud and confident women who still keep the city going.
Having spent my secondary school years in the city with the Catholic migrant communities of Irish, Polish and Italian Mancunians. At school we daughters of incomers from different cultures learned that we had opportunities that our mothers had never had – that the city was for us.
I moved away for a number of years and when I returned towards the end of the last century it was to a city transformed – the population even more diverse, the city centre no longer empty at night. But Manchester is still a city of poverty and deprivation – of inequality and terrible health statistics. And much of this burden falls on the shoulders of the women of Manchester.
When you look at the politics, business and public face of Manchester it is very male. I work in the NHS with women who work long hours to support themselves and their extended families, often in families with no men. They are the carers of children, grandchildren, the sick and the disabled, yet they still have the energy and joy to fill the streets of Manchester on raucous nights out.
And Manchester has changed so much – many would date this to the 1996 IRA bombing – but it is really a transformation that has happened through the political, education, sporting and business sectors working together – to build a new city. It is the reason why young people come to study here and stay to build their lives, why the Commonwealth Games has provided an infrastructure which has been built on by continued private investment.
Unfortunately these benefits have not been shared – I live in Ancoats in the city centre, where every month sees the opening of a new café or business – where young people live in a cosmopolitan area which welcomes all genders and nationalities. But there are areas where people do not see the benefits of growth – where young people do not have the confidence or skills to take advantage of these opportunities and where many feel left behind. Divisions which were seen in the result of the E U Referendum.
But the election of a GM mayor and the response to the Manchester Arena bombing have shown a city that is proud, strong and united (!). And women are at the basis of this spirit – the women who had taken their children to a concert, who worked in our local hospitals and who preserve the memories of the victims.
We are the backbone of the city and we must step up – as our sisters the suffragettes, trade unionists, campaigners, the mothers and daughters have done – we must play a full part in our new city.
So less Manchester – more Womanchester.