The Sex and Power report – are we doing our bit?

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I’m sure the special report, Sex and Power: Who Runs Britain? – published by Counting Women In, this week that revealed the shocking absence of women from UK public life did not escape many people’s notice, especially if you happen to be a woman!   The report showed that women are decreasing their representation in society and increasingly being excluded from politics and public life in the UK.  On hearing the report I felt a searing disappointment and outrage that this was the news in 2013!

What was particularly shocking was that in 2010, 35 years after the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, Britain lay in 60th place out of 190 countries in female representation in the democratic system – and here’s the disgraceful part – we were 33rd in 2001!  How can we explain such a startling drop?  We didn’t fare much better in the European Parliament, coming third from bottom!  The report suggests women’s participation in politics and public life is plummeting at an alarming rate.  I felt personally wounded by the news and wanted to be angry at somebody about it but I wasn’t quite sure who to direct it at.  I mean we are as women, well aware of the ever-present ‘glass ceiling’ but to not only be ‘not’ advancing but to actually be decreasing in our power in society – now that is bad news, that is serious and bad news.

It saddens me deeply that we may have kidded ourselves that we have come so far and achieved so much as women that we may have rested on our laurels a little too much by allowing certain attitudes and mentalities to continue to exist unchecked.  And I don’t just mean in men, I mean in ourselves too.  All this week I have read various articles on the report and listened to a few debates.  In searching for answers many resorted to a similar conclusion – that girls are still not socialised to be successful in the same ways that boys are.  Nan Sloane on Women’s Hour this week suggested that,”Women are socialised ‘not’ to be ambitious and they have far less role models in leadership.”  If this really is true, then as parents, as teachers, as adults we not only can be a part of the solution and way forward but must take some responsibility for how our society is failing girls and has failed many women.  I believe children are the future – and not just in the Whitney Houston ballad kind of way – but in the making lasting change in our society and planet kind of way that begins with attitudes and mentalities instilled in children.  Just like the obesity problem can be tackled by educating parents and children about healthy eating and the planet can be improved by teaching school children about recycling – it all becomes second-nature and ‘normal’ by the time they are adults.  It should be ‘normal’ already for our girls to see many women in positions of power as role models but unfortunately that is still not the case.  But what we can do is to make sure our language, actions and attitudes tell them they can be anything they want to be just as much as we do to our boys and tempt ourselves away from reinforcing any gender stereotypes.

We can also make sure that we are being an example to our girls and our boys as mums.  Not necessarily donning a power suit and sitting for parliament – though that would be very cool – but by making sure we are ambitious for ourselves whatever our dreams may be and making sure we are modelling to our girls and boys what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment of women.

Seeing reports like this Sex and Power one can give a bleak outlook for women in society – us who make up more than 50% of the population and keep the whole thing going with our wombs!  It can feel overwhelming and daunting and we could be forgiven for feeling more than a little ‘powerless’ as to what we can do to change it.  But we can!  By parenting well and living well ourselves.  Politicians and the dominant male leadership of our society may not be listening to us but our children are (or at least some of the time!) Ladies, let the revolution begin!

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