Fiddling While Rome Burns

12 03 2011

On Tuesday night I was booted and suited and striding along Princes Street on my way to the Caledonian Hilton for a drinks reception hosted by CMI-WIM group at which Lady Susan Rice was the guest speaker.

I’d had a productive day and was looking forward to getting out of the rain, to networking in pleasant surroundings, to cocktails and canapes and to hearing what Susan had to say. It was cold and starting to go dark in that sullen way that is peculiar to Scottish cities.

As I strode towards the hotel I passed bundles of humanity huddled against the rain and preparing themselves for the bitter night ahead.

As I passed I was struck by a single thought – one that I haven’t been able to shake – are we fiddling while Rome burns?

This week the New Statesman printed a well written and well argued essay from Natasha Walker in which she details the plight of a woman, Saron, who fled Ethopia and jail, rape and violence only to find that her treatment here in the UK was even worse. As Saron puts it, “ It wasn’t what happened to me at home that broke my spirit it was what happened to me here.”

I am not going to detail her mistreatment here in the UK and her repeated detention at Yarl’s Wood. Hers is not a unique story, would that it were. The mistreatment of women refugees here in the UK is commonplace.

I mention her case, in this week when we celebrates 100 years of International Women’s Day, to suggest that a preoccupation with issues that just affect women in business here in the UK is a tiny part of a much, much bigger picture.

No man is an island and, more crucially if we are to address inequality, neither is any woman.

It is easy to focus on issues that affect one personally. I may have had a good day, or a bad day, but I am always able to come home to a safe place.

We all know, at some level, that women are oppressed in other countries but stories like Sarons show that women can be treated just as brutally here in the UK.

We are all connected and it is incumbent upon all of us to join the dots!

This month’s issue of the3rdi magazine has an article by Ruth Walker highlighting the plight of the Dallits in India. This piece is the first of many and the April issue will be opened up to look at the issues facing women in the wider world and, importantly, explores ways in which we can do something to support women who are not as lucky as we are, as knowledge without action means that we run the risk of fiddling while Rome burns.

The3rdi magazine will continue to develop initiatives to support women in our communities and beyond.

The Inspiring Leaders Foundation will support community projects following the launch event in Edinburgh.

Fair Comment is designed to support community projects in collaboration with the Women’s Fund.

You can support us by joining the co-operative. You will get benefits that support you as an individual and you will support our programmes for women . £50 is not a lot of money but we know that these are difficult times. If you are unable to become a full member then please consider making a donation.

I wonder if Kate Middleton plays the piano?

12 03 2011

I live in a part of Crieff where parents find it necessary to send their children to public school, a practice that I neither understand or support but a topic which will wait another day!

I mention this purely to set the scene for my walk with the dog, where a significant minority of windows were filled with young children, still in their school uniforms, alongside an adult and both sitting in front of a piano.

Why is it that middle class parents will pay a fortune to tutors to teach their children a musical instrument?

Why has the importance of sitting Grade 6 piano settled itself so deeply in the middle-class psyche?

I have nothing against music. I can recognise most of the major classical pieces and some of those less well known. I can distinguish between Bach, haydn, Handel and Schubert with a reasonable degree of accuracy. I even like opera, well the tunes anyway. It’s only the screeching women and histrionics that make it impossible to listen to. I even taught myself to read music when I was pregnant with my son, who is himself now an accomplished drummer and composer of music.

But I digress.

Why music? Why the piano?

In my 50 years on the planet I have never been disadvantaged by not being able to play chopsticks. There are many occasions when I wished I had a better grasp of figures or could ask directions with a degree of fluency when in a foreign land but I have never been in a situation when my ability to play, or not play, the piano has been raised, let alone one where such as skill was seen as important or useful.

I don’t doubt that it might be nice to be able to tinkle the ivories and I am not suggesting that all learning should have immediate practical benefit but the question remains, why do middle class parents think that it is so important that their children learn the piano.

Why not Spanish?
Why not art?
Why not take them for a walk in the park and show them the wonders of nature?

I don’t have the answer but as you might guess if you have read my blog before, I do have an opinion!

I think it is aspirational. My view is that it harks back to the days when the upper classes had drawing rooms with grand pianos and afternoon soirees; when “play something for us Miss Bennett” was uttered by Mr Darcys throughout the country houses of England. The ability to entertain in such a genteel manner would be a useful skill for a middle class woman seeking to better herself by marriage into the aristocracy.

I wonder if Kate Middleton plays the piano?

Why I’m not a fan of International Womens Day

7 03 2011

This month, March 8th the be precise, marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. There are events all around the UK to mark the occasion.

I’m maybe going to risk the wrath of women’s groups everywhere but I’m not a fan.

It’s not that I don’t think that it isn’t important to recognise the value of women in our communities or to celebrate those great women in the past who, often at great personal cost, changed women’s situations for the better. I do.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said that if you want something said ask a man, if you want something done, ask a woman. This is probably the only statement of hers that I can agree with. She’s right. Women are often better at getting things done. The exception seems to be around International Women’s Day.

If you have read my editorials before, or my blog, you will know that I am a big advocate for doing not saying and for concerted action. I regularly exhort people to get involved, to volunteer with a charity rather than just writing a cheque for the fund-raising spectaculars and walking away until the next red nose day. I fear that International Women’s Day may be becoming one of those headline events – a way to make a token gesture and then forget about the issues until next year.

You know the kind of think I mean – glossy venue, parachute in the female equivalent to James Caan and Nelson Mandela, hosted by someone off the TV. The organisers get to feel good about themselves for organising a meeting, the speaker feels important and the audience goes away thinking it’s not too bad to be a woman after all!

A huge amount of time, effort and money is spent on organising one off events. Certainly important issues are raised, lives are celebrated and sometimes money is raised for good causes but I can’t help feeling, then what?

What needs to happen is a year long, life long commitment to improving the lives and circumstances of women.

This is why we set up the3rdi magazine in the first place. A day in day out commitment to raising the profile of women and the amazing businesses they run and the social enterprises they found. This is why, at the start of 2011, we turned the3rdi magazine into a member owned co-operative so that every woman could not only own the vision but could own this business and share in the profits and set the agenda.

So we are not hosting a day conference, or a cocktail party, or a networking lunch. What we are doing is supporting real, substantial projects that will improve the outcomes for women in business and women in our communities.

Inspiring Women Leaders is an audacious and unique year-long programme focused on taking action to achieve inspirational systemic change. The programme is borne out of, and builds on, the current national and international debate on women’s leadership; global dialogue exploring the changing nature of business; and research showing economic benefits of diversity in leadership. The programme begins on 15th June 2011 with an event which will bring together 150 senior women leaders into a day focused on innovative action, co-creation and collaboration. It is being run through Inspiring Leaders Foundation, a new social enterprise and all profit generated will be put back into the programme throughout the year and beyond.

Fair Comment is an innovative and cost-effective programme which generates dozens of ideas to ensure the future success of women and their businesses. A panel of experts, each of us giving our time freely, brainstorm ideas in order to address the issues brought to us. It is a little bit like Dragons Den meets Mastermind, with one big difference – the panel is always on the side of the presenter! The presenter, an representing themeselves, a business or a social enterprise, has an hour of the time and combined brainpower of the panel and leaves with lots of ideas to consider. In return the presenter makes a £100 donation to The Womens Fund.

This editorial is an unashamed call to arms. It is not good enough to turn up once a year for the big spectacular and think that you have done your bit. By all means have a great day on 8th, listen to and learn from some of the inspirational women that will be speaking at events across the UK but don’t let it all end at midnight.

Get involved and stay involved. There is a lot to celebrate, as the video shows, but still a lot to do to change attitudes and change lives – when I placed this video on the page the googleads served were to “find your beauty queen from Moldova!”

Joining the3rdi magazine limited co-operative would be a great place to start that journey!