What we really (really) want on #MalalaDay

What we really (really) want on #MalalaDay

Malala and her mother_Feb 16Happy Birthday to activist Malala Yousafzai, 19 years old today and celebrating her birthday in Kenya visiting Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.

Since recovering from her 2012 shooting at the hands of the Taliban,  Malala has gone on to advocate for child education, pass her GCSEs (in her second language), win the Nobel Peace prize (the youngest ever person to do so), appear on TIME magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people three times, suggest to Barack Obama that we need more school books instead of guns, set up her own foundation, teach her Mum (pictured left) to speak English, address the United Nations in New York, appear in an Oscar nominated film with her father and write a couple of autobiographies (read my review of one of them here).

Malala Fund logoNo young woman could be more inspirational or deserving of our best wishes – so please join me in celebrating #MalalaDay and wishing her the happiest of Happy Birthdays.

* * *

Malala hadn’t even been born when the Spice Girls released their iconic song Wannabe, the video for which has now been updated for a new generation. Twenty years after the Spice Girls’ sparked global girl power with their first hit, the chart-topper has been remade to highlight gender inequality issues faced by women across the world. The video features artists from India, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, USA and Canada, a diverse roll-call that includes superstar Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez and London R&B trio M.O.

The remake aims to push a series of UN global goals including education, gender equality, equal pay for equal work, child marriage and an end to violence against women and has been launched by Project Everyone, a campaign which aims to eradicate poverty, injustice and fight climate change.

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want …



#mindthegenderpaygap : mid year round up

#mindthegenderpaygap : mid year round up

Gender pay gap_coin stackThe gender pay gap continues to dominate as a major news story for 2016 – here’s my latest round up of the global stories, issues and challenges.

I joked about it on April Fool’s Day, but apparently, it can be done – bravo to the University of Essex,  who said they were  “impatient for change” and have thus given their female academics a pay rise to bring their average salaries level with the men. Facebook also maintain that they’ve closed their gap, although this BBC piece suggests (rightly) that it’s only half of the issue.

However, it transpires that academia in general suffers a huge gender pay gap; a new (US) study shows female PhDs in the science and engineering fields make 31% less than their male peers one year after graduation, according to a new study in the American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings. When controlling for the fact that women tend to earn degrees in fields that pay less than those in which more men earn degrees, the observed gap dropped to 11 percent. And the gap disappeared when controlling for whether the women were married and had children.

In the UK,  the new living wage came into law in April 2016 – but what does life look like on £7.20 an hour?

“From today, the National Living Wage will give around 900,000 women and half a million men an immediate pay rise in their hourly earnings. By 2020 this translates to 1.9 million women and 1 million men directly seeing a rise in their pay. The gender pay gap at the 10th percentile of the earnings distribution – including those working part-time – is expected to fall from 5.6% currently to zero by the end of the decade. Over the next five years women earning the National Living Wage will see their pay rise by over a quarter and growing more than 1.5 times faster than the salary of an average worker.”

[Source: UK government website]

What emerged from four USA news items?  

  • A new study found that women hold less than a third of “middle skill” jobs—which include roles like welders, mechanics, and IT support staff. Researchers say that if just 10% of the women with similar, but lower-paid gigs moved into these fields, it could double median female earnings;
  • Top US women footballers filed a complaint for equal pay;
  • And Fortune shared five things every woman needs to know before she renegotiates her salary. A new Glassdoor survey blew up the myth that men – unlike women- are great at asking for higher salaries, finding that more than half of all employees settle for their employer’s first offer. However, those women who do try to negotiate tend to be less successful, according to the survey, which found that 15% of men are able to talk their way into a higher paycheck, vs 4% of women;
  • The gender wage gap is especially pronounced among highly educated men and women in white-collar jobs, an analysis by The Wall Street Journal shows. Women without a high-school diploma were paid 79% as much as male peers in 2014, whereas women with a bachelor’s degree or higher were paid 76% as much as male peers. This may be in part because white-collar jobs such as CEOs, doctors, and engineers reward working long hours and job hopping, two behaviours that can be tricky for working parents (ie, mothers). And as gap watchers already know, wage transparency, pay studies, and other one-off remedies won’t do much to fix the problem. What might? Cheaper childcare, more flexible workplaces, and increased parental leave (along with dads who are willing to take it).

I love a story which suggests that corporate diversity programmes can make a difference – and this report from the Harvard Business Review finds that women perceived as “high-potential” receive a pay premium, making even more than their male counterparts. There’s a catch, of course: that pay boost is far more likely to kick in if they work for a company with overarching diversity goals.

It’s not just about the UK  and the USA, though. A new survey shows that while India has a gender pay gap, it narrows when men and women are working at the same level. Men in India earn an average of nearly 19% more than women, but just 3.5% more if they work at the same level at the same firm.

Yet another new study looks at how becoming a mother affects the gender pay gap in different countries. Interestingly, having a child in Ireland puts a big dent in working mothers’ salaries, while it barely registers for mums in Italy, Spain and Belgium. This Irish op-ed piece really reflects the writer’s frustration with the current set up, doesn’t it?

It’s been interesting to watch actresses emerge as public advocates for pay equality and equal opportunities at work. True, their massive pay cheques make it difficult to feel too outraged on their behalf. Yet their celebrity may make their actions useful to working women with less clout. House of Cards star Robin Wright recently explained how she got the show’s producers to pay her as much as co-star Kevin Spacey.

“You better pay me or I’m going to go public,” Wright recalls saying. “And they did.”

The last time I wrote about the gender pay gap impacting pocket money,  my Facebook page was alive with comments saying it wasn’t so – but this latest survey suggests that, broadly speaking,  there is still a pocket money gap of 13%! What I still can’t wrap my head around is why – can parents please comment and shed some light?

Finally,  at the other end of the age spectrum, both the TUC and the New York Times report on the extent to which the gender  pay gap is impacting retirement; in the UK, women have barely half the pensions of men and the same is true in the USA – women are in far worse shape than their male counterparts when it comes to retirement. Because women make less over our lifetimes and thus have lower pensions, we are 80% more likely than men to be in poverty at age 65 and older.

Four Things I’ve Liked This Week

Four Things I’ve Liked This Week

Here we have a Buzzfeed-esque list of “4 Things” which have caught my eye of late: things which made me laugh, made me (fleetingly, before I remember the weather, #8monthsofsnoweachyear) want to emigrate to Canada, made me mentally crown a member of the British Royal family this week’s #HeforShe champion and made me recall an early brush with a culture very, very different from my own.

Meme riposte to can anyone stop HillaryFirstly,  this meme response to a Time magazine cover from 2014 made me laugh.

“Can Anyone Stop Hillary?”  was the question in a televised debate: and here we have the great reply.


Justin Trudeau UN WomenIn my 2015 round up of people and stuff I loved, I referenced the then newly minted Canadian leader Justin Trudeau as a hero for saying, in a very matter of fact way “Because it’s 2015 …” when asked why he had a 50/50 gender split in his cabinet. He’s gone on to consolidate his feminist credentials; Fortune magazine did a nice round up of five times that he’s been a feminist hero and I especially like this quote, from JT’s recent editorial in the Globe and Mail:

“Feminism is about equal rights and opportunities for men and women, about everyone having the same choices without facing discrimination based on gender. Equality is not a threat, it is an opportunity.”

So yes please Mr Trudeau, do please keep saying you’re a feminist.

Prince Harry on feminismAnother, perhaps unlikely, bloke was outed as a gender champion last week when Prince Harry visited Nepal and spoke in support of gender equality at the Girl Summit. I would love to see him do more of this type of work – I think he has huge influence and reach and,  removed from the burden of pressure to be a future monarch,  he could really build his own portfolio and platform in support of women, girls and education.

“There are way too many obstacles between girls and the opportunities they deserve,” the 31-year-old prince told the crowd [at the Summit]. “We need to acknowledge that so many countries and cultures are failing to protect the opportunities of young women and girls in the way they do for boys,” he continued.

The royal, who admitted he has not spoken out on the challenges of young girls in the past, embraced the opportunity and encouraged others to do the same.

“We won’t unlock these opportunities for young women and girls unless we can change the mindset of every family and community. To achieve this, it cannot just be women who speak up for girls,” he said.

Finally, a recent story in The Observer took me back in time and reminded me of my first foray into volunteer work when I was still at school. We currently hear so much about refugees from Syria but the paper went to catch up with a number of Vietnamese refugees, who found themselves in the UK in the early 1980s after their rescue from terrifying boat journeys (hence being referred to in tabloid terms as “the boat people”) and subsequent re-homing in Peterborough.  At the time,  the Cambridgeshire city was dubbed a ‘new town’ and was in the throes of expansion and development; businesses were lured there with cut price offices and rates and new housing estates seemed to spring up almost overnight.  The then Mayor made some of these new properties available to a number of Vietnamese families and I came to know them when I spent two afternoons a week with them as part of my volunteer work (in lieu of playing hockey!) at school.

The programme was nominally about teaching the adults English,  but in reality it became much more about learning life skills and how their new life and society actually worked. So whilst we did spend time sitting in their kitchens doing English lessons together (numbers, colours, names, food and drink, and putting stickers up on items around the house – door, chair, TV, sink, fridge) we also went out and about together so that my new friends could learn how to use public transport,  how to use the public library, what to do in a shop (how to queue, for example … I remember this causing much puzzlement), how to sit in a café and order from the waitress.

I did this for nearly two years before I left Peterborough to go away to university and I loved it – and I know that I learned as much from my new friends as they ever learned from me, not least the capacity to look at life through a different lens and see things from another point of view. It was wonderful to read the article and learn about how the families settled and became successful; there is one very successful young woman featured in the article and I wonder if I met her when she was a child.

End of week round up – mostly celebrating #IWD2016

End of week round up – mostly celebrating #IWD2016

Overthrowing the patriarchyThis week,  it was pretty much all about International Women’s Day  on March 8th,  with lots of organisations using the event as a launch pad for their initiatives and announcements.  Here’s some of what caught my eye.

Back in 2008, I made a film called Closing the Gender Gap which featured the then deputy President of South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She is now the executive director of UN Women and discusses in this Fortune interview  what International Women’s Day is all about. She had one very specific recommendation for how businesses of all sizes can help promote gender equality – clue: it involves money. And gaps. And here’s UN Women’s look at how IWD is celebrated around the world.

The ScotsWOMAN paper IWD 2016My absolute favourite story of the week (possibly the year, or maybe ever) was about newspaper The Scotsman becoming The ScotsWOMAN for the day, complete with an editorial mix which celebrated as well as analysed the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.

IWD quotationsNewly launched newspaper the New Day (which also happens to have a female editor, Alison Phillips) shared a graphic featuring some great quotes and also published (yet another) tool to cheer us all up by allowing us to calculate where we fall on the gender pay gap. Meanwhile, The Guardian suggested that we stop asking for parity with men and instead ask for progress – which, given that the International Labour Organization reported that women have seen only “marginal improvements” in the world of work in the past 20 years, is a very valid point.

The mostly female team behind the hit BBC  show ‘Call the Midwife’ reminded us that the show:

“… places women at the very centre of every episode, and women’s stories at the central part of our world. The role of women in the birthing room – and the positive aspect of female relationships seen more widely – has too often been invisible in popular culture. Yet the immense worldwide popularity of our programme demonstrates that our viewers, male and female, see this as a positive and natural thing for a drama to show. We hope there will come a time when it is so natural to drama that it does not require special mention – or indeed a special day in the calendar.”

The BBC also shared three stories as part of their IWD coverage: five pictures that revealed how women are treated around the world; England cricket vice-captain Heather Knight looked back at how far the women’s game has come; and here’s an interesting series of images of women making technology work for them.

However,  it wasn’t all good news; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who has already enraged many by urging Turkish women to have at least three children and for calling efforts to promote birth control “treason”- said in his speech to celebrate IWD that he believes that “a woman is above all else a mother.”

Unesco reported, complete with some rather scary illustrations, that sexism and stereotyped language is rife in textbooks, whilst football club Wellingborough Town banned its chairman for making sexist remarks; perhaps he thought it was ‘banter’?

Nicholas Kristof (the ultimate champion of HeforShe, to my mind) commented on his Facebook page that:

“The group ONE has a new report noting that “poverty is sexist”–it absolutely is–and concluding that the worst places in the world to be born female are Niger, Somalia, Mali, CAR and Yemen. To me, the best index of global gender inequity is that there are still more males than females worldwide. Women live longer, so there should be more females. But because in so many places female foetuses are selectively aborted, or girls aren’t fed or vaccinated or taken to the doctor when sick, there are actually more males than females worldwide. And this can’t just be a women’s issue, but should be a men’s and women’s issue together!”

And the TUC issued a report which claims that women who have children before they are 35 take a 15% pay hit, compared with childless women. Other cheering data points include the fact that 20% of women under 25 were dismissed or forced out over pregnancy or maternity leave, compared to 10% of all mothers.

It’s the custom in many countries to present women with flowers on IWD – I was often given an individual rose on March 8th  when I worked in an office which had a large population of Russians, where IWD is also a public holiday. Perhaps it’s a shame that a bloke in Romania failed to remember the tradition, given his wife’s enraged reaction.

And finally,  for anyone in the mood for a Friday evening glass of wine,  The Guardian brought us the story of Italy’s first all-woman vineyard.  Saluti, cheers, sláinte, à votre santé, etc.

Did I miss anything? Please share stories or links in the comments below.

Have a great weekend – look out next week for a new #powerofthree interview with a woman who decided aged 11 that she wanted  to be a lawyer (spoiler alert: she made it!)

On #WomenandPower

On #WomenandPower

Hillary Clinton and PowerHillary Clinton is probably one of the most high profile and powerful women in the world at the moment, and is moving towards becoming America’s first ever female Presidential nominee. It is not, however,  the smooth path to the White House that she might (not unreasonably) have expected. Bernie Sanders crushed her in the recent New Hampshire primary—thanks in large part to female voters, 55% of whom say they voted for Sanders. The loss was undoubtedly a tough one for Clinton; she won the state in the 2008 race and it put her husband on the path to the White House in 1992. In her concession speech, Clinton looked forward, saying, “It is not whether you get knocked down that matters, it is whether you get back up.”

She subsequently won  major victories on ‘Super Tuesday’ in seven out of eleven Democratic primaries and caucuses, including Texas and Massachusetts. Her wins are credited to her popularity with minority voters and her kinship with Southern Democrats from the two decades she spent in Arkansas. There’s more on her campaign trail in this interesting piece from the BBC.

Elsewhere in the world, a new report suggests that women continue to face a double hurdle to gaining political power. While there has been an increase in women’s participation in politics across the globe, it has not necessarily resulted in an increase in their power and influence, a study by the Overseas Development Institute has found.

Although participation in political systems is a prerequisite for influence, women’s presence alone does not mean they have actual power or are able to make advances in gender equality. Women elected to public office are often seen as “troublemakers” and not “like other women”, are judged more harshly and can face violent backlashes for being politically active. The performance of individual women leaders can also affect public perceptions of the abilities of women in general.

Through interviews and observations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malawi and Kenya researchers found numerous examples of where women have brought about positive changes through their involvement in male-dominated political and judicial systems. The report concludes that the major factors in women achieving real political power are (my italics) advances in education and technical knowledge, economic independence, feminist organisations and political skills, combined with changes in social structures and rules.

ODI research fellow Tam O’Neil said:

“Women have more rights and representation than ever before, with democracy and quotas as key drivers. But women leaders must be credible in the eyes of their, mostly male, peers to have real power – and this means having higher education, technical competence, and economic independence. Increased representation is a shallow gain unless women also have access to resources, and unless widespread beliefs about women’s role and capabilities change. Policy-makers need to pay more attention to these issues.”

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Village courts in Bangladesh now have at least one woman on all cases involving women and minors in project areas. However, social norms and structures prevent women from engaging in what are seen as male issues, such as land and property disputes.
  • In 2010, the women’s movement in Kenya succeeded in negotiating a constitution that was so progressive on gender issues that it was known as the ‘Women’s Constitution’. One of the key changes was a requirement that the Kenyan parliament include at least one third female representation.
  • Much of the backlash against increasing numbers of female Kenyan politicians is expressed through bullying, which is often sexual in nature. And even with increased representation in parliament, women remain a minority so must work hard to lobby male politicians to support legislation that treats men and women as equal.
  • An indication of the uphill struggle Kenyan female MPs face is the passing of a controversial marriage bill in 2014 which legalised polygamy.
  • A new survey of women MPs in Malawi shows that female candidates often face prejudice and gendered abuse during election campaigns. Once elected, women MPs can find it difficult to progress their own career or women’s rights in general. To be accepted by voters and keep their seat, MPs need to conform to expectations of a “good woman” in dress and behaviour. Women MPs however have worked in politically smart ways, using restrictive gender norms strategically to achieve rights and benefits for other women.
  • Women MPs made the case for a new Divorce, Marriage and Family Relations Act (2015) by appealing to male MPs as fathers, stressing the dangers of child marriage to girls. At the same time they did not draw attention to some of the more controversial provisions in the bill, such as those relating to marriage by repute, custody of children and marital rape.
  • Most Malawians have socially conservative views about women and gender relations. However, around half of the women MPs said they share domestic responsibilities, such as childcare and cooking, equally with their husband – showing the importance to women’s leadership of both women and men being prepared to challenge gender stereotypes.
  • In Afghanistan, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, women activists and international actors lobbied for the law (2013) on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which criminalised violence against women for the first time.

As the week of International Women’s Day draws to a close,  this report is a timely reminder of the gender based work still to be done and the power based progress still to be made in many countries around the world.

This week, I’ve been reading: I Am Malala – How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

This week, I’ve been reading: I Am Malala – How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

I Am Malala_book coverAhead of the UK release (in November) of the film He Named Me Malala, a revised and updated version of her original memoir has just been published, written by Malala Yousafzai (with renowned teen author Patricia McCormick) for her peers and containing some very thoughtful discussion materials at the end of the book.

But who is Malala? I first heard of the Pakistani school girl shot by the Taliban shortly after the attack (in October 2012) and of course she’s now world-famous as the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and as a global advocate for both peace and education, especially for girls (on meeting President Obama: “I told him that if America spent less money on weapons and war and more on education, the world would be a better place”).

Perhaps what I had not really appreciated, prior to reading this wonderful book, was the extent to which Malala, then a school girl with dreams and ambitions (“That summer I turned fifteen. …. I knew for certain now that I wanted to be a political leader. … I would do the things politicians only spoke of. And I would start with education – especially girls’ education.”) was specifically targeted by the Taliban, who knew of her through her BBC blog on life in the Swat Valley (near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan), her appearances in local media – “Throughout 2008, as Swat was being attacked, I didn’t stay silent. I spoke to local national TV channels, radio and newspapers. I spoke out to anyone who would listen.” and even her appearance in a New York Times feature. At the beginning of the book,  she describes the day of the October 2012 attack:

Two young men in white robes stepped in front of our truck.

“Is this the Khushal School bus?” one of them asked

The driver laughed. The name of the school was painted in black letters on the side of the van.

The other young man jumped onto the tailboard and leaned into the back, where we were all sitting.

“Who is Malala?” he asked

No one said a word, but a few girls looked in my direction.

He raised his arm and pointed at me. Some of the girls screamed and I squeezed Moniba’s hand.

Who is Malala?

I am Malala and this is my story.

A week later, Malala awoke in fear and confusion in a Birmingham hospital, recovering from her terrible injuries. She fought back to full health and now lives, with her parents and two brothers, in Birmingham – as well as travelling the world (“I met one of my favourite people in the USA, a man named Jon Stewart, who invited me to his TV show to talk about my first book and the Malala fund”.), studying, speaking and fund raising.

I love this quote from her speech to the United Nations:

One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world

At the end of the book,  she tells us that “I am Malala. My world has changed, but I have not … we have all adapted, little by little, to this new place. My father wears a handsome tweed blazer and brogues now when he goes to work. My mother uses the dishwasher. Khushal is having a love affair with his Xbox. And Atal has discovered Nutella.”

But yet she is still the same teenage girl who played in the streets, argued with her friends and learned English from DVDs of Ugly Betty and Mind Your Language.

It’s a wonderful book, thought provoking, uplifting and inspirational. Make a note of 12th July in your diary as Malala Day (it’s her birthday) and check out The Malala Fund at www.malalafund.org/voice

See in the New Year by becoming a Godmother

See in the New Year by becoming a Godmother


(c) VSO

I’ve just signed up to become a Godmother (I was number 36!) in support of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)’s new campaign for women,  the Godmothers.


VSO tells us that:

“Worldwide more than 60 million girls have been forced into early marriage. Of the 780 million people who can’t read, 510 million are female. Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours but earn just 10% of the income.

The new UN women’s agency could put a stop to all this. But to fulfil its promise it needs your help.

The Godmothers is a group of men and women who think women everywhere deserve a chance. Together we’ll watch over UN Women, help keep it on track and protect it from people who’d like to see it fail – everything a good godmother would do. By making sure UN Women gets the powers and funding it needs, we can make life better for millions of women worldwide.”

Click here to sign up and be a supporter – and help to make the New Year a Happier one for women everywhere.