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Didn't we do well? Now for the next step. Western Morning News.
This article, by Carleen Kelemen, Director of the Convergence Partnership Office for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, appeared in the Western Morning News on 8 March 2010 to mark International Women’s Day.
“When the financial crisis bites in the developing world, girls get to eat last.” A shocking headline from The Guardian late last year. Here we are in the 21st Century and yet we are forcibly reminded that we are a long way from reaching the equality for women around the world that as a civilisation we would want to aspire to.
We’ve come a long way since the Education Act of 1948, the usual liberation brought about by “The Pill”, and the gradual acceptance by society that women can go out to work and still fulfil their maternal responsibilities. And as the decades spanned into the new century, didn’t we all do well?
Or did we? “Having it all” became the new battle cry of aspiring young women from Lands End to John O’ Groats. But having it all brought about onerous responsibilities and expectations that could not be squeezed into a 24 hour day. And soon the cry became “I can’t do it all” or “What about me”.
It is my view that women have done well. In fact throughout history women have always ‘done well’. I can cite Boudicca, Cleopatra – revenge turned to power; Emily Pankhurst – what would she say about the new style election debates? And of course Mrs Thatcher – love her or hate her.
Even as recently as February this year, Laura Chinchilla became the first elected female President of Costa Rica eroding the region’s reputation as “a bastion of machismo and patriarchy”. She is the fifth woman to be elected president in Latin America over the last twenty years.
Notable women are scattered like precious jewels in the Sahara across the expanse of history, yet I cannot think of any part of my life, my career, my community or my very existence that has not been borne of, nurtured, championed or challenged by a woman. And yet still in the closing of the first decade of this new century visibility of women in many areas of influence is still lacking.
Today in every way, women take their place in professions of every type, in politics, local, national and international, and in supporting their families, raising their children and caring for their dependents, in the very best way they can.
Today compared to fifteen or thirty years ago women here in the UK have a choice. They can choose whether to pursue career or business opportunities. They can delay starting their families. They can aspire to Prime Minister or they can choose to concentrate on bringing up a family, income and well being allowing.
Is it just a matter of personal choice? Actually, no. Just look at the statistics from the Equal Opportunities Commission – “The Missing Women”. It states that it would take 15 years longer (55 years in total) for women to achieve equal status at senior levels in the judiciary and women directors in FTSE 100 companies could be waiting 8 years longer (73 years in total).
Coming up to the general election, the Commission noted in 2008 that it would take 200 years for women to be equally represented in Parliament. To achieve equal representation among Britain’s 31,000 top positions of power, the Commission estimates over 5,600 “missing” women would rise through the ranks to positions of real influence. Here is the crux of it. In an ‘equal’ world, representation of women is not equal. Government policy, laws of the land, even regeneration programmes all focus on improving equal representation.
The problem is complex but still worthy in working towards better representation in all walks of life.
If we place attitude and self belief to one side, both of which are critical to success for men and women, let’s look at what can be done to move forward. I am not of the opinion that selecting on gender alone solves the problem. It can actually sharpen prejudice and create new barriers.
Ability, experience, ‘fit for the job’ should always bring forward the best candidate. But how do you create the conditions for a woman to be the best? You make sure that she has access to opportunity.
Here in Cornwall, where we are deemed disadvantaged through periphery, dispersed population and being rural, we are creating novel pathways of access and support which fits in with women of today. Such projects support women returning to work or helping those who have never been to work with confidence building or training. We have created many access routes to education and upskilling. Network Cornwall and Empowering Smart Women together network thousands of women who can bond in their common ambitions and share the realities of being all those roles on which so many depend.
For those who aspire to senior executive roles or businesses of their own, there are Institute of Directors training delivered in bite size modules or business start up support through Business Link, YTKO’s ‘Outset’ and Oxford Innovation’s ‘Grow Cornwall’.
Access to opportunities are flourishing on the South West Peninsula and perhaps the greatest support of all is that there is always someone who wants you to succeed and is there to help you.
Equal representation for women in the UK and equal opportunities for women worldwide will take more than one generation to achieve. It is up to each of us to join together to take the next step and make it count. And it takes a lot of collective courage to take those one or two steps when you can’t see the whole staircase. Are you ready?