Cherie Blair spoke about the importance of women’s empowerment at an event hosted by the Israeli Business Club (IBC) last week.
In honour of International Women’s Week, the IBC hosted its first event for Israeli women living in the UK, giving them the opportunity to network and promote their businesses from social media to make-up artistry.
Mrs Blair, a high-profile barrister and wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, told more than 120 guests that she had chosen a legal career at a time when “attitudes were pretty neanderthal [with] casual racism, casual sexism”.
She nevertheless decided to pursue a career at the Bar “because of a Jewish woman, a Jewish woman from Liverpool called Rose Heilbron.”
Self-described as a “slightly bolshy Scouser girl”, Mrs Blair said Dame Rose, who was the first woman to lead a murder case in the English courts, the first woman judge to sit in the Old Bailey, and the first woman treasurer at Gray’s Inn, “was extraordinarily famous in Liverpool as one of the great daughters of the city — an inspiration to me because I thought if one girl from Liverpool could make it in the law, maybe this girl from Liverpool could do it too.”
Mrs Blair, who established the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in 2008, said she was delighted to attend the event because “I believe women’s empowerment is much more about helping women gain a voice – particularly a voice in business. I know that here, in the IBC, cementing business relationships [and] helping people to grow their business is very much what you’re about.”
IBC chair Leora Torn-Hibler said: “We wanted to have Cherie speak because of the work she does all over the world empowering women.
“She’s an inspiration for all women — for Israelis, and Israelis living in Britain who are used to their husband being the breadwinner. Most of them are educated but they sit at home. Mrs Blair will bring some inspiration for them and push them to maximise their potential and give them a boost to go out and work”.
One guest, Maya Barr, a 36-year-old freelance make-up artist, who moved to London from Tel Aviv six months ago, said: “I worked in the Israeli Opera for five years but I don’t have any contacts in the Israeli or Jewish community here – this event is a brilliant doorway to that and meeting potential clients.”
Made a CBE this year for her services to women’s issues and charity, Mrs Blair spoke about her Foundation and its work in Jerusalem and the Galilee, where it supports the Western Galilee College to promote business development training opportunities for Jewish and Arab women.
“We positively insist that it is a mixed group,” she said. “We hope these women grow and expand their own businesses, stand on their own two feet, so that they not only raise living standards and build stronger economies, but also because they have financial independence [and] a stronger voice in their community”.
Mrs Blair is due to receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University on May 7 for her work with women in underprivileged communities.