Yesterday I took part in the March of Women to celebrate International Women’s Day. Firstly, there was a re-working of Cecily Hamilton’s play A Pageant of Great Women and 50 of us spoke on behalf of a great women from Scottish history. Then over 100 women walked from the Women’s Library, where the play was staged, to Glasgow Green, some half a mile away. It was an incredible event and a wonderfully original and inclusive way to celebrate International Women’s Day.
The play, which was originally performed at The Scala Theatre, London in 1909, was staged before an audience of women and men and the march, though itself women only, was supported and followed by women and men. If I’d have asked any of them whether they believed in an equal society it’s a fair guess that everyone would say yes. So why hasn’t it happened yet? Over one hundred years have passed between performances and we are still living an an unequal society. The march, then as now, was women leading the call for change.
But, by marching alone and performing alone we are letting men off the hook. We are taking on the role as change agents, taking sole responsibility for change. The drive for equality becomes a women’s issue. Something we do alone. The men can sit in the audience, walk alongside and applaud our spirit. They need do no more than that.
Take politics and the forthcoming general election. According to Glenn Campbell, political correspondent for the BBC, the SNP’s candidates list is only 36% female, the Lib Dems is 27%, Labour 26% and the Tories just 15%. Of the 263 candidates selected by the five parties, 73 are women, representing just 28% of the total.
Take the pay gap, which Nigel Farage insists is “just a fact”. It is not closing. The International Labour Organisation estimates that the average gender pay gap now stands at close to 23 per cent, meaning that for every £1 men earn, women earn just 77p. Why isn’t the gap closing? Because it is seen as solely our responsibility as women to close it. It is up to us women to gain the skills we need to compete for the top jobs. Women have children and it is up to women to manage the career break this entails and if there is then a decrease in pay and conditions then that is only to be expected.
I am a founder member of an organisation which seeks to improve board effectiveness through increased diversity. There are many, many reports that show that boards make better decisions, and the companies they manage perform better, when boards are gender balanced. Yet, according to the 3rd annual survey following the Davies Report, women account for just 20.7% of FTSE100 board directorships and just 15.6% of FTSE250, and there remain 48 all-male boards. True, this is a slight improvement year on year but progress is woefully slow and it takes organisations driven largely by women to continue to push for change. When the benefits of board diversity are clear, why is it left to women to campaign for change?
Men are in positions of power at the moment. That, as Nigel has it, is just a fact. Men are in a position to actually make the changes needed to bring about full equality but choose not to, or to make change slowly.
My contention is that campaigning for equality should not just be a thing that women do alone. It is not good enough for men to sit and watch while we march. Men need to be more than supporters. Men, as well as women, need to challenge inequality.
Equality is about fairness and which of us, male or female, doesn’t believe in that.