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

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.

On the Big diverse Lunch, 2010

On the Big diverse Lunch, 2010

This time last week I was sitting outside on a chair, eating cake,  in the middle of my street – just a normal, west London residential road,  a street of early 20th century houses, a street which is normally lined with parked cars and which serves as a useful cut through to the nearby tube station.

A street where, on regular days, people would doubtless think you’d lost your mind if you so much as sat in your front garden instead of around the back.

But last Sunday was different,  because me and my neighbours were taking part in the second annual Big Lunch – a day in which around one million people all over Britain sat down with their neighbours for a communal meal.  And so,  for just one day,  the road was closed,  the cars were relocated,  bunting and balloons were strung across the road and woven into the trees – and around one hundred adults and children came together in my street for a communal barbecue, followed by homemade cakes and puddings.

My street in London is very ordinary and is like thousands of others all over the UK – a row of terraced houses,  built in the Edwardian years at the turn of the twentieth century in order to house the growing middle class population of white collar workers such as bank clerks and office staff.  Some of the houses are owned,  some are rented;  some are single family units,  others are let out as individual rooms to a transient population of twenty-somethings from a variety of countries.  Most of the houses have now been updated from their original build and have had new kitchens, bathrooms or loft conversions bolted on,  although some do have the ancient 7’ x 11’ galley kitchen and prehistoric bathroom fittings still in situ (we inherited the original loo,  complete with overhead cistern and hanging chain, when we moved in in 2001).

Above all though,  we have a huge diversity and richness of talent in the street that I never really appreciated until one of my neighbours heard of the Big Lunch,  then in its early stages, last year and leafleted the street to see if anyone was interested in helping him organise our very own street party.  Before the 2009 Big Lunch,  our street was fairly typical,  in that some of us knew our immediate neighbours (and we are only a road of 27 houses,  so not a huge population) but nobody knew everybody.

I remember when there was a discussion a year ago over what entertainment to put on for the children and someone exclaimed: “What children?  Do we even have any kids living here?”

But we actually have nearly 30,  if we’d only known it at the time.

And diversity?  At this year’s lunch,  we had participants from the following countries: all four corners of the UK,  the USA, Canada, Poland, Bangladesh, Jamaica, India, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Russia and the Netherlands.

And this diversity of backgrounds also brings with it an amazing array of jobs;  a quick poll told me that amongst us we have a:

psychotherapist, a BBC producer, a professional sitar player,  an opera singer, an actuary, a CBT therapist, a vicar, an actress (who once had her own story arc in “Sex and the City”!), a motorbike salesman, some freelance musicians who teach drums and play in a band, an HR manager for a museum, a midwife, a man who makes models for film sets such as “Gulliver’s Travels”, assorted sales assistants, a primary school teacher, a management consultant and various people who “do things in IT”.

(And me).

What was great about the Big Lunch was not only the way in which this kind of event truly brings people together in a social sense,  but also the way in which people contributed their skills to the organisation of it all.

We had three barbecue stations on the go; Paul made us a playlist and plugged his iPod into someone else’s speakers so that we could have music.  I ordered all the food and took delivery of a huge Ocado order,  but that food was then stored overnight in multiple fridges up and down the street.  Wei-Hei used her discount card to buy the disposable plates, cups and cutlery at a great price from the cash and carry; Glynis spoke to a friend at a local church and arranged for us to borrow their tables in return for a small donation to the church roof fund (there’s always a church roof fund, isn’t there?).  Liz went up and down the street,  saying hello and getting people to sign up for the lunch; Russell used his great graphic design skills to knock out newsletters for everyone,  but particularly for those of our neighbours who don’t have email (which,  given that some of them are in their 70s and 80s,  is very much the case).

Astrid bought and stored all the drinks; Bevan collected the “Road Closed” signs from the local council depot; other neighbours contributed bunting (made out of what looked like old pyjamas), a gazebo, tables and chairs.  I did all the email communications with the Mayor’s office,  the local community policing team and our local ward councillors;  TLS was in charge of the budget,  on the basis that he’s great at getting money out of people and he also used his truck to fetch and carry various signs and bits of furniture.

Most crucially,  in terms of the atmosphere on the day,  our local musicians,  who form a truly fabulous band called Storey (check them out on iTunes and Spotify)  gave us a completely brilliant two hour concert.  They played their own stuff (with which quite a few of us are now familiar,  as we try to go to their local gigs when we can),  then went into some great covers and finally got members of the audience to join them on drums, tambourine and backing vocals.  Who knew that Mark was such a great drummer,  or that Ingrid could sing so well?

And I guess that’s the whole point of diversity – how do you know what skills people have,  unless you open up the doors (or the street) and include them?  I’ve had several job interviews (yes … still …) recently in which I’ve been asked: “What does diversity mean to you?” – and my answer is – it’s always all about the talent.  Just like the childless person who assumed that, like him, our road was childfree, I think that many unenlightened leaders think that having more people like them in the leadership team is the only way to lead the company,  or organise the street party.

But for me,  the Big Lunch events are a great reminder of a couple of things:

–       That I’m so lucky to live in this lovely street in this fabulously multi-cultural city;

–       That not sweating the small stuff is generally a great idea – and we will usually get there,  wherever “there” may be,  in the end;

–       And that the greatest outcome can always be achieved by having a mixture of talents and inputs from a wide variety of people.

Oh, and?  Street parties are way more fun when you get blue skies and sunshine (2010) rather than dark skies and rain (2009).

Want to be a mentor to women in Bangladesh, India, Israel or Palestine?

Want to be a mentor to women in Bangladesh, India, Israel or Palestine?

Last week,  I had a very interesting meeting with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (CBFfW), a relatively new charity set up by barrister Cherie Blair, which aims to strengthen the capacity of women entrepreneurs in countries where they lack equal opportunities,  thus enabling them to grow their businesses and become greater contributors to their economies.

The Foundation aims to offer women better access to business development support networks and finance in areas of the world which include India, Israel, Kenya, Malawi and Palestine.

The CBFfW is now launching  their Mentoring Women in Business Pilot and if you’d like to be a Mentor … read on.

The 10-month pilot programme will support women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, India, Israel and Palestine through mentoring. Approximately 30 entrepreneurial women will be mentored by 40 successful entrepreneurs or professionals. The pilot aims to demonstrate that there are measurable and tangible benefits from partnering women with entrepreneurial potential in developing and transition countries with successful Mentors in the UK using Google’s online applications such as Sites, Docs, Chat and Gmail. The pilot will involve testing exciting new formats and applications, so the Foundation is  looking for Mentors who are willing to be at the forefront of the development of this extraordinary international programme.

Being a Mentor is a great opportunity to share your knowledge and experience while helping others to succeed and learn about other cultures, places, businesses and market opportunities. Your participation in the Mentoring Women in Business Pilot will require a minimum of one hour of your time every two weeks, and the more you engage,  the more you will help shape the future of the Mentoring Programme.  Some of the Mentors applying for the pilot will be matched with a Mentee by July and will be able to start the mentoring relationship right away, while others will be matched in October, when a second group of Mentees will be ready to participate in the programme. Some Mentors will not be matched with a Mentee, but their involvement in the programme will be crucial for the successful management of the mentoring Platform, as they will be able to contribute to the public forums and share their expertise with Mentors and Mentees alike. The pilot phase will finish in May 2011.

Mentors are asked to provide a minimum donation of £100 per year to help support the programme and will be given training from Google on how to use Google’s applications and from renowned experts, Clutterbuck Associates and the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, Cambridge Judge Business School, on how to develop a strong and effective mentoring relationship. The one-day training course for the Mentors will be on July 14th (it’s free) and will be a great opportunity to learn new skills and to network with like-minded people.

The Platform built with Google to run the Mentoring Women in Business Programme is now ready; if you would like additional information or have any questions, you can contact the programme’s project manager via

If, having browsed the site, you’d like to apply to become a Mentor, please apply now, as the the application deadline is 23rdJune.

And please feel free to share this link with anyone who you think would be a great mentor for these women around the world.