On gender neutral t-shirts and #100DaysofMay

On gender neutral t-shirts and #100DaysofMay

Interesting things arrive in your in-box when you’re a blogger on gender issues. In recent weeks,  these have included an infogram looking at female board members in some of America’s largest companies, an invitation to discuss the issues surrounding the UK gender pay gap  on American TV* and a link to a new website which markets gender neutral t-shirts with feminist, LGBTQ+ friendly, strong and thought provoking slogans.

No less a publication than the Wall Street Journal has recently written about the growth of gender neutral apparel, so I think that Zealo Apparel founder Josie is really onto something here.

She told me that she set up the range in part due to her frustration in finding lots of things, but specifically clothing, to be so highly gendered:

“My aim is to create a shopping experience as gender-neutral as possible so that people can choose products based on what they like and not whether it comes under “women’s” or “men’s”.” 

Zealo Cinnamon Rolls not Gender RolesEveryone who knows me IRL knows how much I love cinnamon, even to the point of carrying a tub of it in my handbag for 24/7 sprinkling opportunities,  so of course I particularly love this shirt >>>

Here’s a direct link to the feminist collection and Josie has kindly offered blog readers 10% off your order with code THEGENDERBLOG – so do check it out.

(*Due to timing issues, this didn’t happen,  but I appreciated the offer to momentarily be big in Kansas via NBC affiliate KSHB-TV. Perhaps another time.)

* * *

90360017_mayfeminist.jpgStill on the subject of t-shirts … here’s a reminder that,  back in the day, new Prime Minister Theresa May donned one of the Fawcett Society’s “This is what a feminist looks like” shirts in order to add her voice and support to the cause. Only time will tell if  she’s still holding fast to that promise,  but so far I’ve liked her reference to the gender pay gap on the steps of 10 Downing Street as she took over the reins of power – and her snappy retort at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week when being quizzed what her party had done for women (“It makes us Prime Minister!”) is undeniably true.

The Women’s Equality Party intend to hold the new PM’s feet to the fire and have launched a new campaign called #100daysofMay, in which they have set “six achievable goals for Theresa May to commit to by the end of her 100th day in office.”

They are asking her to show her commitment to gender equality by actioning these six goals, saying that “WE think the Prime Minister should commit to making all these changes by 22 October – her 100th day in Number 10.”

  1. Introduce compulsory sex and relationships education in all schools
  2. Guarantee sustainable funding for specialist services that tackle violence against women
  3. Invest in free universal childcare
  4. End the detention of people seeking asylum
  5. Ratify the Istanbul Convention to protect women from violence and abuse
  6. Commit to 50:50 representation in Parliament

More details on the campaign are available at the WE website. I fear Mrs. May may be otherwise engaged with matters Brexit and ISIS shaped between now and October,  but let’s see.


On the importance of being yourself at work – and a bit about Brexit …

On the importance of being yourself at work – and a bit about Brexit …

australian_flag_3Most airlines are still run by men (Carolyn McCall at easyJet being a notable exception to that rule) and not many businesses are run by a CEO who is also openly out – Tim Cook at Apple is one of those exceptions.  The Venn diagram of openly out, gay CEOs of airlines collides in the shape of Alan Joyce at Quantas,  who is the subject of this great BBC piece which examines both the benefits of diversity to a business and also how important it is to create a workplace in which everyone can be their true and authentic self.

In the article, Alan Joyce cites a conversation he had with a young girl of (Australian) indigenous heritage,  in which she asked him if he thought it would ever be possible for a young woman like her to be the CEO of a business like his.  His reply?

“Well, if a gay Irishman can become the CEO of Qantas then an indigenous lady can.”

During my time working as head of diversity and inclusion for a top Australian (ASX 20) engineering firm,  I was lucky enough to work with an NGO/social enterprise called CareerTrackers.  They specialise in finding paid internships for university students of indigenous heritage from Australia and the Torres Strait islands, as a way of creating career pathways into corporations (instead of following a more ‘usual’ path into roles in the public sector,  where quotas exist as a way of balancing the Australian workforce).  I worked with the founder and CEO of CareerTrackers,  a fantastically inspirational man called Michael Combs,  as well as about a dozen students,  who worked in different parts of the company for 12 weeks at a time in roles ranging from marine engineering to finance and HR. At the time, Quantas were (and I hope/bet they still are) a great supporter of CareerTrackers and took on lots of student interns, as well as providing free or subsidised flights to the team.

I thought of Michael and the CareerTrackers team as soon as I read the interview with Alan Joyce and I really hope that it was once of Michael’s interns who asked that great question of the Quantas CEO!

*  *  *

So, Brexit.  I feel the need to write something about this and add my voice and words to the thousands of op-ed pieces which have been generated over the past week since the referendum’s results were announced. I’m on holiday in Ireland at the moment and this is a huge news story over here; I’m quizzed on it by people as soon as they hear my English accent and the Irish press is covering it in great detail every day.  Ireland was very much pro-Remain ahead of the vote,  with PM Enda Kenny setting out his stall quite clearly last week (it seems a lifetime ago now, doesn’t it?).

I’ve spent most of my life passionately in favour of inclusion in all areas of life, society and the workplace so yes – I was very much a Remain voter and I was and am devastated at the idea that we, the British people, have seemingly opted to not be part of Europe anymore.  Add to this the fact that we seem to have gone from being a gloriously inclusive nation at the London Olympics in 2012 to now being a country where voicing a “send them home”, anti-immigrant narrative is ever more common and acceptable … and I am saddened in more ways than I can count.

There have been so many summaries of the most immediate consequences of Brexit but this one,  posted on Facebook last Friday 24th June by Phil Moss,  is to me the most insightful. His words are reproduced, with my thanks, here:

“This is the single biggest mistake that this country has made in my life. And it has made it with its heart, not its head. The economic repercussions have already started, and things are only going to get worse.

Good luck to everyone as they see their employment rights, human rights, legal protections and economic vitality destroyed as the protection of the EU umbrella is removed. Not to mention the effects of the global markets and the impact of new trade agreements.

To those who chose to use the EU Referendum as the opportunity to “give a kicking to politicians of all sides”, you should get a kicking yourselves, metaphorically. You have used your displeasure at the ‘Westminster elite’ to wreak horrific and long-lasting damage onto our country. And to those who focused solely upon stopping the “bloody immigrants”, immigration from non-EU countries is far higher than from EU countries, and the UK already controls immigration from non-EU countries. So well done. This was a referendum about membership of the EU, but it became everything but. People used it to vote against austerity, to vote against the political system, to vote against the lack of investment in the NHS and housing, but seemingly very few voted on the basis of the pros and cons of EU membership.

Finally, I have some words for David Cameron…

You gambled the entire future of your country on a political whim, in order to placate your party, by inserting the promise of a referendum into your 2015 GE manifesto. And you lost.

Your gamble has spectacularly failed, both through your own failings and those of an apathetic Labour Party, and we as a country will now reap the ‘rewards’ of your naivety through Brexit.

You may lose your job earlier than you hoped, but I don’t care about that. Prime Ministers come and go, but few make such cataclysmic mistakes. You have destroyed the UK’s reputation within Europe and the wider world, threatened our economy in the short, medium and long term, and created uncertainty for years to come.

This a sad day, one of the saddest of my life. We cannot undo the mistake that we have just made, and I fear for our country and its place in the world.”


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.

Weekly round up: anyone for tennis?

Weekly round up: anyone for tennis?

tennis money shutterstockAs Adele would say, hello. Ahead of a long (in the UK, at least) weekend, here’s my round up of gender related news, plus a recommendation for a novel.

There’s still lots of noise around the gender pay gap. And I feel that my prediction earlier this year that it’s THE human capital news story of 2016 is very much the case. The Huffington Post askedjust how persistent is the gender pay gap? Apparently, even companies that practice “salary transparency” – making all employees’ salaries publicly available – may end up paying men more than women.  And a report by the UK Women and Equalities Select Committee said the government has failed to close the pay gap and called for action on what it dubbed the ‘motherhood penalty’.

Meanwhile, anyone for tennis? The sporting pay gap story of the week played out in a series of comments, resignations and backtracks. Firstly, Indian Wells Tennis Garden CEO Raymond Moore’s allegation that female tennis players “ride on [the] coattails of the men” hit the tennis world like a bombshell, prompting his subsequent resignation. While Serena Williams called his statements “mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate,” Novak Djokovic firstly took the opposite view, saying he believes there is data to support the notion that men bring in more fans, swiftly followed by HIS backtrack,  claiming he had been misunderstood and that it wasn’t his “intention” to cause offence (thus proving my oft-repeated point that it’s never about intent but always about impact). Game, set and match to Serena Williams and Andy Murray, I think,  who both come out of this debate with dignity and gender equity support intact and consistent.

In US politics, The New York Times reported on how white men are pushing back on supporting Hillary Clinton, whilst Donald Trump’s “problem with women” may cost him the Republican nomination (and that would be a real definition of soft power,  if it happens).

“To win the White House Donald Trump will have to accomplish one of the great political seductions of all time. Having insulted the women of America as bimbos, fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals, he will have to persuade them to vote for him.”

(I can’t actually bear to illustrate this story with a relevant image,  so please use your imagination, if you can stand to do so.)

Thanks to ELLE’s Hannah Swerling sharing the details of it with us at Soho House last week,  I finally caught up with this New York magazine story on why and how young single, female voters hold the power in 2016 – why the shape of marriage and family life is changing and how the practicalities of female life independent of marriage give rise to US demands for pay equity, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage and broadly accessible reproductive rights; many of these are issues that have, for years, been considered too risky to be central to mainstream Democratic conversation, yet they are policies today supported by both Democratic candidates for president.

Last week, Sheryl Sandberg celebrated the two year anniversary of the release of the Lean In Collection on Getty Images, a library of thousands of creative images devoted to changing the portrayal of women and girls in media and advertising. In the past year, searches for “woman entrepreneur” have increased by 402% on Getty’s website — and searches for “empowered women” increased by 772%. As Sandberg shared on Facebook, “We also need to broaden the images we see of men, and there are signs that these depictions are changing. In 2007, the most downloaded image of a father was a dad playing football with his son. In 2015, the most downloaded image showed a dad reading a tablet with his daughter. They say a picture is worth a thousand words — and in an age where visuals are everywhere, it is so important to think about the messages those images are sending.” This link shares what role imagery in advertising can play, so that we can “be what we can see.”

It was reported in the UK that the so-called “tampon tax” (wherein sanitary protection products are taxed as a LUXURY item) is to be abolished and chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver came out swinging in favour of breastfeeding, saying that “we need to support the women of Britain to breastfeed more, anywhere they want to”, although he then ran into a wall of criticism, mostly from women who felt that it wasn’t down to a man to “mansplain” such a female function.

The Pool shared some revised ideas about what dressing for work now looks like and discussed how women’s wear has evolved over the last fifty years. And Lauren Laverne used the site to urge us all to speed up the pace of change.

Finally, books.

The Observer ran a nice piece on Caitlin Moran talking about her new book, Moranifesto and the same paper’s This Much I Know column featured feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

After the Last Dance by Sarra ManningI read and enjoyed After the Last Dance by Sarra Manning; it tells the story of Rose (set in 1940s’ wartime London) and the (initially unlikeable) current day Jane, slowly unfolding their connection. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar in Las Vegas and asks the first man she sees to marry her; in 1943, Rose runs away from home and ends up in London where she volunteers at Rainbow Corner, a nightclub for American GIs. It’s a slow burning read but I enjoyed it – perfect for a rainy afternoon and a hot cross bun.


Thanks to Sphere and NetGalley for the chance to read After the Last Dance.


The #WE Party on the gender pay gap

The #WE Party on the gender pay gap

Gender pay gap_coin stackThere are currently so many new stories and angles relating to the gender  pay gap that I think I’m going to have to use a #PowerofThree approach of my own and just cover three at a time.

So, in the week that the Women’s Equality Party launch a gender pay gap shaped campaign (details and video link below),  here are the three (and a bit) main stories on this ever evolving topic which have caught my eye in the global media in the last few days.

Straight in at Number One with a bullet,  we have the New York Times reporting that as women take over a male-dominated field, the pay drops, indicating that work, when done by women, is less valued and therefore less well paid. Historically,  this may not be new news; I seem to recall that clerical and secretarial work was, in the 1900s, always done by men and was considered of high status – until the First World War brought women out of the home and into offices and hey presto, the “just a secretary” movement was born.

“A striking example is to be found in the field of recreation — working in parks or leading camps — which went from predominantly male to female from 1950 to 2000. Median hourly wages in this field declined 57 percentage points, accounting for the change in the value of the dollar. The job of ticket agent also went from mainly male to female during this period, and wages dropped 43 percentage points. The same thing happened when women in large numbers became designers (wages fell 34 percentage points), housekeepers (wages fell 21 percentage points) and biologists (wages fell 18 percentage points). The reverse was true when a job attracted more men. Computer programming, for instance, used to be a relatively menial role done by women. But when male programmers began to outnumber female ones, the job began paying more and gained prestige.”

Next, we have two areas of the gender pay gap topic covered in the Harvard Business Review, who share the real reason why 30-something women are leaving their employers – and guess what,  it’s nothing to do with “family reasons” and everything to do with cold, hard cash. So,  where women can vote with their feet and leave the much-lauded talent pipeline for more money elsewhere: they will. And also in the HBR is a feature which indicates that our new (UK) pay gap legislation will also increase employee performance. Pay transparency empowers workers and enhances fairness. “When people know where they stand and know what it will take to move up, they’re more motivated to work to improve both their performance and their standing.”

Finally, the CIPD reports that short men and overweight women appear to suffer from unconscious bias affecting their pay, according to a study from the University of Exeter. The results showed that men who were shorter than the national average and women who were heavier earned about £1,500 less annually than colleagues. It’s suggested that leaders should acknowledge the unconscious bias that leads to this pay discrepancy and work to remedy it. Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “We have known for a long time that both [quoted forms of discrimination] are truisms. If you are a shorter man, with the same qualifications as a taller man, the tall man will get the job. By the same token, an overweight woman will earn less. It is awful but true.” Fry said he believed employers were acting on unconscious biases, rather than outwardly discriminating: “We are brought up to think that if you are fat you are less than perfect and that it is really tall men who are commanding. It is discrimination and, from an employment point of view, there is no reason for it. If you can do the job, you can do the job, and you should get paid equally.”

(I’ll reference the still-evolving story about gender pay gaps on the tennis court – and the charmless comments made therein – in this week’s end of week round up).

So now to the Women’s Equality Party, who are celebrating March – the first month of the year women actually get paid – with a new campaign and video.

“Forty-five years after the Equal Pay Act, women still earn 20% less than men. This means that, in effect, women have to work until March before they start getting paid for the jobs that they do. Women earn less per hour, less per job and less overall. This is not only hugely unfair on half of the population, but it also has a detrimental effect on the country as a whole. If we unleashed the potential of women, the economy could grow by an extra £180 billion. That’s £2,850 for each and every one of us. If you want a party for equal pay, support the Women’s Equality Party.”

What I find absolutely staggering about the gender pay gap issue is the chorus of disagreement which it provokes every time it gets mentioned on social media or in an article.  The internet is awash with comments like: “Every job that I have worked my female colleagues have earned exactly the same pay as me, so where are these places that pay less for the same work?” and “But there isn’t REALLY a 20% pay gap is there … it’s all just rhetoric and manipulation….”.

So not only are we faced with fighting for parity,  we’re also having to challenge people who seemingly haven’t heard  of the concept that the plural of anecdote isn’t evidence, who were fortunate enough to ACTUALLY KNOW the full details of their colleagues’ salaries or who are clearly in utter denial as to the validity of the evidence.  Do they really think that any Government would have created new legislation to tackle this if the gender pay gap wasn’t a very real, known, documented issue?


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.