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Seeking balance for International Women's Day 2019

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day today (8 March) is “Balance for better”.

Women from across the University of Sussex community suggest areas where a greater balance could improve the lives of women – and make societies better.

Make gender a category of hate crime

“I would like to see a better balance in the law to protect women against misogynistic street harassment. Currently there is no legislation in Britain that includes gender as a category of hate crime. Part of the problem has been the scale of violence and abuse against women and the concern that it would consume all hate crime policy and budgets.
Dr Hannah Mason-Bish
"However, a wider problem has been that gender abuse and misogyny is not seen as exceptional by many. That is why we are in a situation arguing – somewhat bizarrely – that, if a woman is shouted at and called an offensive name in the street or has her body parts discussed by strangers in a public place, she does not have to 'take it as a compliment'.

"It is also important that the diverse voices of women are heard. We must also recognise intersectionality in hate crime and hear from disabled women, women of colour, queer women and other minority groups if we are to tackle prejudice effectively.”

Dr Hannah Mason-Bish, criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies

Increase the number of women in engineering

Dr Elizabeth Rendon-Morales“We need to see more of a gender balance across the sciences, but I would definitely like to see more women thinking of engineering as a career choice. Only 9% of engineers in the UK are female - and that is not enough. As a female engineer, I would like to change that. By 2030 the UK will be limited to solving the challenges if we do not prepare future engineers today.

"My research is about novel technology developments based on electronics and sensors to develop future medical robotic systems. This will assist doctors and nurses to perform, for example remote precision surgery. Making my technology available to real people will make a real difference. This is the most fascinating aspect of my research.

"As well as my students, I hope to inspire my daughter one day, to develop technology that matters, to develop technology that can change people’s lives.”

Dr Elizabeth Rendon-Morales, Lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and a member of Athena SWAN

Address the gender power balance of the arts world
Laura McDermott
"Historically, in the arts and culture sector, there has been a lack of balance (of representation, of opportunity, of power) between genders. The bias of the arts world towards straight, white, male, able-bodied voices has been well-documented through the years – since the Guerilla Girls first started their actions in 1985. 

"Things are moving in the right direction, although progress has been slow. The PRS Foundation are running an interesting campaign called Keychange at the moment – to get music festivals to pledge to make their line-ups gender balanced by 2022. 

"Elsewhere, historic progress has been made – for example Maria Balshaw (who studied here at the University of Sussex) was named in 2017 as the first female director of Tate.

"I think it’s interesting to consider what else is out of balance, within the phrase 'balance for better' (particularly around questions of ethnicity, (dis)ability and class) before we can consider that we are operating in a truly equitable way."

Laura McDermott, Creative Director of Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts

Translate academic success into the workplace
Dr Emily Danvers
“With girls outperforming boys at all levels of education, from GCSE up to degree level (with more women going to university, and a higher percentage achieving firsts), it may look like we’ve achieved – and gone beyond – a balance in education.

"But we still aren’t seeing this translated into women’s success in the workplace. As well as the gender pay gap, there are far fewer women in senior leadership roles compared with men and, if we look at race, social class and disability in addition to gender, the question also needs to become which women are succeeding.

"These ‘identity’ gaps are likely to do with the gendered culture of many organisations, which is deeply engrained and still seems to be orientated towards the ‘bachelor boys’, particularly in higher education. My feeling is that the women who succeed, particularly to the highest levels of the professions, do so in spite of the system. 

"Even though the education attainment of women has risen significantly, without continued attention to how gendered cultures (and their intersections) create exclusions, such progress will be limited."

Dr Emily Danvers, Lecturer in the Department of Education and a member of the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER)

Increase parity in governments
Professor Claire Annesley
“Parity cabinets – where women are 50% of cabinet ministers – exemplify #BalanceforBetter. The inclusion of women in the highest ranks of government has been increasing across the globe, with parity achieved at least once in Chile, Canada, France, Rwanda, Sweden and Spain.

"There are growing expectations that executives should ‘look like the country’ they serve, so a cabinet based on parity is deemed more legitimate to the public. When revealing his parity cabinet in 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: ‘It’s an incredible pleasure for me to […] present a cabinet that looks like Canada.’

"The benefits of balance are not just symbolic. A diversity of skills and lived experiences in cabinet makes for better policy making as long as all members of cabinet are equally empowered.

"But Trudeau is under scrutiny now for his treatment of some women in his cabinet. #BalanceforBetter doesn’t stop when a cabinet ‘looks like’ the country. It must also ‘become like’ the country it wants to be: challenging power relations and allowing all cabinet members equal voice and status around the cabinet table.”

Professor Claire Annesley, Professor of Politics and Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Equalities and Diversity)

Protect women from online abuse
Maria Bjarnadottir
“Women are disproportionally affected by online abuse. They have less access to the internet compared to men, and the harsh tone of online debate discourages women from full participation in online public discourse. The pioneers of the internet envisioned a space free from the restraints of the structures that ruled the offline world. However, it has not lived up to its potential of a brave free world. It has only strengthened the foundations of the old, with the patriarchal structures underpinning sexism and misogyny translating seamlessly to the online sphere.

"From my doctoral research in this field, I can see that this story can have a different and a better ending. But it requires cooperation and a layered regulatory response from state parties and private entities. The response needs to rely on a nuanced balancing of competing human rights standards, and an understanding of the structural injustices of misogyny and sexism.”

Maria Bjarnadottir, doctoral researcher in Law

Aim for radical change
Catherine Mayer
"The word ‘balance’ can feel intrinsically small-c conservative, to do with rejecting change to preserve a stable status quo. Surely what we need is not balance but change, and radical change at that.

"But in fact our world is currently wildly unbalanced: Women still make up less than a third of parliament. Only one in every five ‘experts’ quoted in the UK’s main online news outlets are women. There are only 17 black female university professors in the entire UK system and the median gender pay gap for full- and part-time workers in 2018 was 17.6%. In that context seeking balance has somehow become a radical proposition.

"I co-founded the Women’s Equality Party to fight for that radical change. Through our seven core objectives, WE have spent the last four years challenging our country’s unequal status quo. Because real balance means equality, and that is better for everyone."

Catherine Mayer, University of Sussex alumna, author and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 8 March 2019