Margaret Prosser calls for men across the UK to do far more in the fight for women’s equality
International Women’s Day has come around again and it’s time to think of all the ways in which women’s lives still need to be improved. Compared of course, to the plight of women in many other countries, we in the UK are not doing so bad. However, the comparison needs to be made not with women elsewhere but with men in our country. And in doing this, we need to issue a call to arms to men and boys to join us in the continuing fight for women’s equality, for equal pay, for equal access to seats on boards, both public and private , and for greater commitment to involvement in family life.
Many men are in a position to instigate employment arrangements which will enable women to move on and up within their chosen field of employment. They could and should provide equal opportunities training for internal appointment boards; and special networking opportunities for women in large companies or particular sectors of the economy. None of this is rocket science. It works by providing the right atmosphere and identifying the hurdles that get in the way of equal chances for all.
We would all agree, I’m sure, that there is also room for improvement in women’s portrayal in parts of our media. Leaving aside the Page 3 issue (which in my view is almost as demeaning to men as it is to women – what man with any sense of dignity would want to be seen ogling away at a newspaper photograph?), the idealistic visions promoted by sections of the press only help to support the notion of women as objects. The vast majority of people holding senior positions across the newspaper, magazine and broadcast media are men. They can and should use this seniority to encourage attitudes which see women as individuals, and values them for their contribution not age or looks.
What can men do in their personal capacities? A bit – in some cases, a lot! – more washing up, more cleaning and more cooking wouldn’t go amiss. This is only right and fair, but sadly not universally adhered to. If it were happening more widely, it would send a message to children that it’s ok for men to be seen in the kitchen and would help boys understand it’s alright to grow up doing things like that.
For those families that are not so organised or respectful of each other, the role of education is vitally important. The government’s programmes on relationship education could go far in keeping boys from difficult backgrounds away from the notion that it is acceptable to treat girls and women with disdain, or even violence. Sadly the Department for Education does not see this work as key and it’s not part of the core curriculum. And that just goes to show why some of our male politicians also need to be brought into the debate and reminded of their personal responsibilities in the fight for women’s equality.
Baroness Margaret Prosser is a backbench Labour Peer and Deputy Chair of the Equality & Human Rights Commission
Published 7th March 2013