By Michel Margalit, Shine Lawyers’ Dandenong branch manager
Many people assume when they see the spelling of my name that it must be one of those creative baby names.
And yes, while I thank my mother daily through gritted teeth for her ‘creativity’ while I’m repeatedly called Michael or Mitchell, I do thank her for the deeper sentiment behind the spelling.
My mother was studying a Bachelor of Laws when she became pregnant.
Being accepted into Law School had been a significant achievement for her as years earlier, due to her shy nature, she had been not-so-gently encouraged into the typewriting stream at high school.
She was destined for a future of 75 words per minute at best.
Unhappy with this, my mother did a runner and quit school at age 16.
Years later she obtained her high school matriculation certificate at night school and worked her way into Monash Law, to the surprise of her new husband.
My father’s drive and tenacity had inspired my mother.
In 1943 he was born in Siberia in a gulag, a Soviet forced-labour camp.
His mother was originally from Poland. She fled after the Nazis killed four of her siblings.
Without papers, she was considered a criminal.
It was in the gulag that she fell in love, married and gave birth to the baby boy who went on to be my father.
Her marriage was fleeting. Their husband and father was shot dead in the snow before their eyes.
She was eventually repatriated from the gulag with my father to a displaced persons’ camp in Italy.
Work was difficult to find and she struggled to put food in his mouth.
In the late 1940s she came across an opportunity for my father to have a better life, in Israel, but he had to go alone as an orphan.
She placed her five-year-old on a ship to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
He was raised in an orphanage, later telling me stories of fighting dogs for food.
So when my mother became pregnant, my father’s immovable position was that his children would have the undivided attention of their own mother; that he would give us the childhood he never had.
This wasn’t easy for my mother.
In her brief career she had experienced misogyny and bias that she was intent on rallying against.
When she finally agreed to put her career on hold, she too wished for something better for her children.
My mother’s intent was that by giving me an androgynous name I would have a better chance of succeeding as a woman in the world of business.
I’m eternally grateful to the strong women that have gone before me for paving the road, but I’m particularly grateful to my mother this International Women’s Day for showing me the beauty and the power of both sides of the struggle.
International Women’s Day for me is an opportunity to reflect on what I personally wish to pay forward.
I hope to contribute to achieving an inclusive democracy; one that is inclusive of gender, culture and class.
To every woman using her voice for good this International Women’s Day, thank you.