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Talking to local women Q&A: Living here today

International Women’s Day was this week, and we love an excuse to dive into local women’s lives and find out how they view living in our corner of East London.

With just a few questions each, we’ve interviewed 10 women living around Roman Road, ranging in age from eight to eighty, and we’ve put together some of their insights about challenging topics.

Luna Polazzi

Luna is in seven years old, and lives in Bow. Her favourite subject is maths and she goes to a local school.

Roman Road Women's Day

Q: Do you like being a girl?
A: Yes, it’s just normal for me. Boys can be a bit naughty.

Q: What do you do in your spare time, and with friends?
A: Sometimes I do homework, but most of the time I play. With my friends, we play this game where we have superpowers and we have to fight. I normally have invisibility or super speed.

Q: Do you know any amazing women?
A: Emmeline Pankhurst. She was a suffragette, we have a book about her. Our mum read it to us. It’s good so you know what people did before you to help other women.

Q: What do you want to be when you’re older?
A: I want to be an explorer, like in the forest. Once I found a fossil in Epping Forest.

Stella Polazzi

Stella is 10 years old. Luna is her little sister.

Roman Road Women's Day

Q: Do you like being a girl?
A: I like being a girl because in my class you normally get in less trouble. I think you’re more sensible. I think being a girl is special because you can still be unique. The only bad thing is that people had to fight for rights and lots of people say that women should still do all the cooking and cleaning.

Q: What do you do in your spare time and with friends?
A: I read, I’m reading Harry Potter. At school, I either chat to my friends or just play football. We had a tournament with our school, and I got picked to go with them.

At school the girls get their own football day, because when we play with the class, they never really get the ball because of the boys, so we have our own one. Lots of girls like it, it’s mostly me and my friends.

Q: Do you know any amazing women who you view as role-models?
A: Yeah, I know loads of women who are amazing. All of them. I think everyone has something that makes them unique.

Q: Do you know what you want to do when you grow up?
A: I don’t know what I want to do – I’d like to stay with animals and stuff, to look after them. We’re trying to convince our mum but she doesn’t want one, yet.

Umimah Zaytun

Umimah is 14 years old and lives in Bow. She goes to local Central Foundation Girls’ school. She has a little brother.

Tow women shaking hands for our talking to local women in Roman Road

Q: What do you think is the best thing about being a girl?
A: That you have your own style, like your hair and looks. I quite like how women dress. I think that women, and their history, shows how strong they can be.

Q: What do you think is the worst thing?
A: I think it can be quite hard, you have a lot to do at home. Today I had to clean and hoover the house, and clean my little brother’s room.

Q: Do you think that will change in the future though?
A: Yeah, hopefully. I don’t want to be cleaning all the time.

Q: What do you want to do when you’re older?
A: I want to become a teacher. For the younger year groups. Maybe like reception. My favourite subject now is art because it’s creative and you can do whatever you think of.

Q: If you had a super power what would it be?
A: Definitely teleportation. So you can move around more quickly, and travel to different countries.

Q: Do you know any women who you think are amazing?
A: Michelle Obama, and my mum. My mum likes cooking and talking on the phone. She helps me with lots of girl stuff, and I can just be with her.

Q: Do you think women need to bond together?
A: Yeah, if we want to show men how strong we are, and that we can grow equally. I think in the future women will have more freedom, and not have the ‘housewife’ image that men think. I really like International Women’s Day.

Maud Mclaughlin

Maud is 17 years old, currently studying Classics, History and German A Levels, and her family live in the building that used to be the Sylvia Pankhurst Toy Factory.

Roman Road Women's Day Q&A

Q: What’s the best thing about being a woman?
A: The camaraderie between women is unmatched. The support you get from other women is really encouraging.

Q: What’s the worst?
A: Well, you can have the best conversations about the worst things. Also, things like catcalling, and being worried if you’re out late at night.

One of the hardest things is not being taken seriously. I know that when I dress more femininely, I receive a lot more road rage from other cyclists or men in public, than when I dress in trousers and a hoodie.

Q: How do you feel about International Women’s day?
A: I’ve always been a feminist. I have three sisters and my mum has always been really active in feminism. So I think, a day where we all come together to acknowledge what it means to be a woman is great. Just getting public support in general is really good for different causes. It’s an excuse to celebrate women.

Q: Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
A: ‘There’s a difference between danger and fear’. When it comes to tackling the outside world, it’s easy to say things are scary, but you can acknowledge and deal with a threat and danger in a different way. I think it’s difficult to live if you’re always scared.

There is a difference between danger and fear.

Maud McLaughlin

Q: Do you have a role-model?
A: I think my family are big role-models from me. It’s nice to have sisters that are going through things before you, so you can learn from their mistakes as well as your own.

Q: How do you feel about growing up in Bow?
A: What I like about Bow is that you have to be a little more rugged. There is a lot of gentrification, but I remember this one time we went to the pie and mash shop and my mum ordered a tea. She got a little fancy jug with milk, and we were very shocked – normally you just get it however they’ve made it. No frills.

Katie Wakerley

Katie is 19 years old and works at Thompsons DIY on the Roman. The shop is run by her mother, Annie, and was run by her grandmother before that. Katie is a qualified locksmith and plans to join the family business when she grows up.

Roman Road Women's Day

Q: What’s the best thing about being a woman?
A: I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I don’t feel disadvantaged being a woman. I think it’s because working with my family, it’s not something that I personally experience.

Q: What’s the worst thing about it?
A: Well, sometimes people call me up, as a locksmith, and they hear i’m a woman and they put the phone down on me or ask for someone else. They want to talk to my partner who’s a man, when really I’m the qualified one.

I try to keep it professional, but sometimes I have to refuse working with them. Same as in store, sometimes men don’t want me to cut their keys.

Q: That sounds awful, is it changing?
A: Well it still happens to my mum, and she’s been working here for, like, 40 years. The worst thing is she’s obviously the most experienced. The boys sort of back us up and say, ‘no, she can do it for you’ and if you don’t like it, it’s on you.

Q: Do you think it’s part of the stereotype that DIY is a man’s thing?
A: Yeah, but it’s fine with people who know our company. They know it’s a family business going back generations and they’ve never had a problem. It’s new people who maybe don’t understand and think we’re not in charge.

Q: Are you a feminist?
A: I don’t agree with all that extreme stuff, but yeah I think we’re all equal. I see other women who are painters and decorators and things like that in my kind of trade, which is nice to see.

I’ve always done things that aren’t exactly feminine. When I was twelve I was really into rifle-shooting because of my dad, and I was one of the only women in the competitions when I was twelve, and I ended up shooting in adult competitions as well. I’ve never really fit into those stereotypes.

Q: Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
A: I like a lot of Buddhist quotes about spreading happiness. Around here, people come in all the time just to chat. I feel like the community is quite tight.

Toya Delazy

Toya is a recording artist and pianist in her late twenties, and she lives on Roman Road. She produces and performs around London and has done voice over work for the Powerpuff Girls. She has just opened a music studio on Roman Road and released a new song called ‘gqoma’,which means ‘it bangs’.

Roman Road women's day

Q: What’s the best thing about being a woman?
A: In this day and age? Well, before a woman was seen as someone who has limitations. Now, I feel like we’re all on the same playing field. Being a woman – you can do anything. We give birth, we can be artists, we can do any career we want, we’re free – free people. I think it’s about exercising all of your freedom.

Q: How do you feel about Bow?
A: In Bow, I’d like to see a lot more artists. But you do see diversity there. In the tattoo shops, you see it’s not just men doing the tattoos, and graffiti art. Times have changed. I mean, things used to be very one-sided. It feels like it’s open gates here. I’m looking to connect with more local musicians, so i hope they reach out and get in touch.

Q: What’s the worst thing?
A: The worst? Period pains… Hmm, We’ve changed things. There used to be this idea that you’re a woman so you can stay at home – but now? Everyone knows what you can do, so now you’ve got to do it. There’s no more shield we can hide behind.

But, we still live under certain stereotypes that we can’t shake, having this idea of a maze. For example, if a guy gets a kid it’s fine, you can come back to your friends and everything is dope. But if it happens to a woman? It’s like your career stops, everything gets set back. It’s not as exciting, it’s more like a sacrifice. I think that’s a challenge.

Q: Does being a woman present challenges in the music industry?
A: There are so many initiatives to promote women now. Initially, women only made a small percentage of the technical jobs. In the performances, in the line up, it’s still mostly guys.

Q: How do you feel about International Women’s Day?
A: International Women’s Day is a day when all women can come together and be celebrated. Lest we forget those people who came before us – like the suffragettes – and paved the way for us. I think it’s a very uniting day. I want to read and see more women. See their problems and how they’re getting through them.

International Women’s Day is a day when all women can come together and be celebrated. Lest we forget those people who came before us – like the suffragettes – and paved the way for us

Toya Delazy

Q: Do you have a favourite saying or quote?
A: ‘If you fall down seven times, get up eight.’ You just keep going, it’s all about rising through.

Deborah Coughlin

Local author, Deborah is writing a book about awe-inspiring women. She is also launching a new app that makes a 21st century television channel on your phone.

Roman Road Women's Day

Q: Do you like being a woman, why?
A: I love being a women. I think it’s a massive part of my identity. I grew up in a world where women were treated completely different to men, and I felt, even from a really young age, that it was completely unfair.

What’s important to me is fairness. When I realised that there was an unfairness there because of my gender, it became really important, taking that stand.

Q: What is life like for women in Bow?
A: The diversity. I’ve lived here 17 years and feel its something you only get around here.

I go to an all-women’s boxing class at KO gyms near Bethnal Green. They are all women from this area, from different backgrounds and classes, who do incredible jobs or have the most incredible families. It’s being run by women who invented the boxing hijab. That’s a real sign of the times!

When I go to see my parents, who live in Wales, there is nothing like this kind of mix of incredible people.

Q: Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
A: I’ve got an Oprah one: ‘You get in life what you have the courage to ask for’. It’s actually on my phone, because there is always a time when I doubt myself and need to remember.

Q: How do you feel about International Women’s Day? Is it still important?
A: I think it’s really, really important. It’s not like being a woman is a minority problem, it’s half the world! Which means that there are loads of parts of it.

For example, I have a friend who is campaigning against FGM all the time, and another friend who is a ‘sexpert’ working to see that women have enough education to know about sex and relationships. Or there is my colleague who has a podcast about women in terms of race. There are so many different elements.

Q: Any advice for young women?
A: You’ve really got to find people who want the same things as you, and surround yourself with those people. I think finding those people is quite an urgent thing to do, so don’t put it off.

Open yourself up to the world and find people who want the same things. Because then you’ll help each other achieve those things. Find whatever it is you need to do to have more confidence and be yourself.

Farzana Ahmed

Farzana lives in Globe Town. She is married and has two children. She used to work in retail and as a carer. She is now looking for a job in a nursery or primary school.

Farzana at the Cranbrook Community Food Garden

Q: What’s the best thing about being a woman?
A: The best thing and first priority is children, and guiding them through their studies. In my opinion, I think that’s my main focus. When they grow up a bit more then you work on yourself.

Q: What’s the worst thing about being a woman?
A: I think the worst thing is if you spend all day inside, it’s not good. You need to go out, see other people. Some women aren’t doing jobs as well, and they stay inside. It’s not good for them, not healthy. They need something else. That’s just my opinion.Q

Q: How do you feel about International Women’s Day?
A: Women need something else, I think it shouldn’t be just looking after children. She needs time for herself. It’s very hard for women sometimes, they get bored. It’s hard with housework and children and working.

So, I think sometimes the partner needs to help because we’re struggling sometimes. If anyone has a partner or husband they need to help because if you’re doing an outside job and then looking after children it’s 24/7.

Q: Do you think it’s moving that way naturally?
A: Yeah, men help now. They understand it’s very hard. Educated people understand. If sometimes, they are not educated, they don’t understand. They think they are the priority. They don’t want to give a woman priority. I think those people need to study.

Q: Do you think women can have it all?
A: Yeah, we’re at the front, not in the background anymore. Moving forward day by day.

Q: Do you have someone who inspires you in your life?
A: My brother. He’s taught me that life has struggles, but you can’t stop. You have to struggle through it and keep going. Many people have to struggle again when they come to this country, because their qualifications aren’t the same. They have to improve their English or they can’t get jobs with their degrees, but you have to struggle through.

Janet Burns

Janet is 77 years old and lives in Globe Town. She won the Star of the Community award a few years ago as Head of the Cranbrook Community Centre. She’s currently trying to manage the leaky roof at the centre, but was happy to be interviewed in her office.

Roman Road Women's Day

Q: Do you like being a woman?
A: I enjoy being a woman. It’s nice to be able to give birth to children and raise them. I have five, I’m glad that’s a part of being a woman. I also think there’s more freedom out there nowadays, I’ve packed up and just gone away by myself before. People didn’t think I would, but I said: ‘Watch me’. I’d say I was a feminist. I’m not going to be put down by a man. I’ll stand up for what I believe in.

Q: What’s the worst part?
A: Men think women are stupid sometimes. We have a few problems like that here at the Community Centre. You’ll say something like, ‘I think we have a leaky toilet’ and they won’t believe you. A sort of ‘how would she know’ kind of attitude. Not all men are like that, but some are – old school. I find that boring.

Q: What’s your experience of living in the area?
A: I’ve lived in Globe town for around 20 years. What’s good is you have all kinds of different groups, but we all mix together. In the Community Centre we have pensioners, a Brazilian social group, a Buddhist bereavement group, a Somali ‘breakfast club’ group, yoga on Wednesdays, mums and toddlers, Asian reading sessions, a Bengali zumba class, and a mental health group. We all get on in the garden as well.

It’s mainly women in community related stuff, I’ve noticed.

Q: Any advice for young women?
A: You get out what you put in. If you do the work, you’ll get the job.

Q: Do you have any regrets?
A: Nah it’s a learning curve, isn’t it? You learn from things, even much later in life.

Sue Kreitzman

Sue Kreitzman, 78, is a local legend and living life to the full. A New Yorker originally, she’s been in Bow for over 20 years. Once a teacher, then a cookbook author, with 27 cook books to her name, she’s now a proud self-taught artist and world-wide fashion icon.

Sue Kreitzman Women's day Bow

Q: Do you like being a woman?
A: I can’t imagine being anything else. I mean, being a woman has its problems. The biggest problem is biology. There is a saying, ‘biology is destiny’. These days that’s not so true, because everything is gender fluid. In my day it was very set. All of my art is about what I call the female landscape, and all about women.

Q: How do you think being a woman has influenced your life?
A: I would be a completely different person if I wasn’t a woman. I think my parents would not have forced me to be a teacher, this was in the 50s, it was a very secure job for a woman. It was a different way of thinking.

Things are very different now. Now a woman can be anything she wants to be. Including a man.

Sue Kreitzman

If I were a boy, they might have pushed me to be a doctor, a lawyer or a dentist. Things are very different now, now a woman can be anything she wants to be. Including a man. These days you are whatever you think you should be, or you can be whatever you want to be.

Q: You’re originally from New York, you lived in Cambridgeshire for a while, why did you decide on Bow?
A: I didn’t fit in Cambridgeshire. I came to London, and everything was too expensive. I kept moving further and further east. As soon as I got to the corner of Grove Road, and Roman Road, It was the weirdest thing: I felt like I’d been here before, I felt like I was home.

This was way back in the day, when everyone would say, ‘why are you living down here, you’re crazy’. People refused to visit me because they were scared. But I belong here, I love it here. I’m an adopted Eastender.

There is a tremendous amount of diversity here, this is the way the world should be. Everyone pretty much gets on with everybody else. We have all backgrounds, it makes me very happy.

Q: Are you a feminist?
A: What kind of a person would not be a feminist? Break it into simple terms – men and women are equal. What’s so difficult about that? Some people hate the term, I don’t get why. It doesn’t mean I hate men. I hate some men, and I hate some women. We are equal and we should be treated equal. End of story.

Q: What advice do you have for young women?
A: Work hard. Don’t close your mind to anything, because sometimes a window opens and you won’t even recognise it. When it does happen – follow it. Don’t answer to anybody, but for heaven’s sake, be a good person.

Part of my job now is mentoring and supporting younger people, and even when you’re young you should do that. Always support others. Be kind, but be open to weird happenings.

Q: Do you have a favourite quote, saying or motto?
A: My motto is ‘don’t wear beige, it might kill you’. Because I’m a colour person, and I’m frightened of beige. I also have another saying, ‘Less is less, More is not nearly enough.’ I’m a maximalist.

Q: How do you feel about International Women’s Day?
A: It’s very complex. Why do we have to have a day? Is there an International Men’s day? It diminishes us. Why a day? Give us a year, give us a lifetime and we’ll give you a lifetime as well.

Why a day? Give us a year, give us a lifetime and we’ll give you a lifetime as well.

We have freedoms that others in the world can’t even dream of. We are very lucky. Whatever it takes to make people think about how lucky we are here, it’s good if we use that to help motivate us to help others.

We have to worry about human rights always. It’s the same with black history month, LGBT month – it needs to be more constant. I’m glad to participate but it’s something that needs to be on our minds constantly.

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Natasha Forrest

Natasha is a QMUL English graduate who lives on Brick Lane with a passion for reading and tea.

2 thoughts on “Talking to local women Q&A: Living here today

  • Amazing article and made me quite proud. I would also like to add that I always get the best, most informative DIY advice from Katie Wakerley. I also received the same from her mum and her grandma before her. We are so lucky to have these female professionals in our community.


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