“The UK is an international leader on women’s empowerment. The UK has a proud record of putting women and girls’ rights at the centre of its international policy, and has played a key role in influencing others.” 1 But is it enough, why do we still feel it is there is a necessary for the importance to female empowerment in society?
Ladies and Gentleman,
Before we begin this debate, let’s be clear on what the definitions we are providing to the key words of female empowerment and society. The dictionary describes empowering as a process to become stronger and more confident, especially when it comes to being in charge of ones life and claiming their rights. When it comes to female empowerment, this topic is vast and is interrelated with many areas of life: Education, Culture, Health and Working environment. We cannot speak about one area without spilling into another.
When we talk about society, what society are we talking about: the diverse cultures or genders present in the UK or are we talking about the society in general?
For this debate, because of its vastness, we are going to focus on three invisible key areas in where empowering women is necessary: Career , Leadership and Security.
According to the report on Gender equality (July 2019) title “ Every stage: a road map to change”2 , at present, the good news is number of girls in the area of education , especially STEM has increased, however the facts are as follows:
1.While women have opportunities to be hired, they will still earn less.
2. Women are 3x more likely to take on part time work or accept unpaid work.
3. Their future is bleak as they save less towards their private pensions.
What are the core issues for this?
When we dive deeper into why women are still not equally recognized, evidence suggests this is related to the stereotype upbringing from childhood, both genders are still being treated differently, and as an effect influence their choices in career. This is highlighted in the Gender Equality report: Girls between the age of 11-21, still believe they are being held back by the adverts on how gender are represented in society. 2
Let’s take a look at the STEM industry, technically, there is nothing holding women back in this field, but are still faced with unconscious bias. Furthermore, women do out perform men in education but not so in the labour market, especially in STEM.
At the moment, Only 22% of women are in the STEM industry. Yet, when asked why are there not so many women in STEM? The conversation always comes back to women are under represented and one the reasons, indicates that it has to do with the application process. There is also a need for more women role models in the STEM industry, such as professors in the academic world, to eliminate the feeling that women are worthy enough for a job in this field. Over the past years, The UK government has invested into pilot programs to raise awareness and get girls actively involved in STEM related subjects and what was interesting is girls are more engaged when boys are not around.
Melinda Gates offered a very interesting alternative reason to why women don’t enter STEM so easily. Her question: What matters to women? Many women are being offered jobs, but tend to turn them down if the company culture and the work values are not reciprocated or respected. She also shares that women are drawn to solving real world problems. Is this a missed opportunity for corporations to advertise and inspire more women to join the STEM field who have a strong desire for social responsibility?
What is holding women back, that if it was there would make a difference?
Let’s look at Leadership:
A recent study conducted by Sussex Innovation, the report indicated three disturbing facts:
1. There is still unconscious bias from management
2. Women still have a lack of confidence
3. Maternity leave disrupts career progress
In the beginning of this debate, we mentioned women are 3x more likely to take on a part time job. Women who have turned to Smartworks Charity for support, have expressed their lack of confidence to re-enter the workforce and are also not as confident to share their skills as men are.
For example, women who take time out of their career to take care of family face difficulties returning into the work force, because of lack of confidence. Women tend to feel tech skills are given far more importance than soft skills, such as communication, peacemaking and more. As a result, opt for career roles in administration, caring or secretarial roles, accept to earn less, and harm their future pensions. Think of those application process, I mentioned earlier.
What do women need for this to change?
Empower women by offering women lead workshops on leadership and financial management focusing on their needs and wants.
To highlight its importance, I would like to invite you to reflect on another disturbing invisible intrinsic insecurity. In the Sussex Innovation3 study, a survey revealed, the peer to peer collaboration amongst women, showed a hint of intense competition by the use of words such as “jealous”, “aggressive” and “undermining”.
Women have had to fight so hard for their rights, that their own style of leadership is in its infancy and lack of it, is still disempowering women, when using power controlled style leadership. Could it be because they haven’t had enough of a chance to create their own innovative style of leadership in economic, financial and political world? And when they are, how does the media support them?
It has been suggested, women lack the leadership qualities such as emotional intelligence, but, there is another side to the coin:
Research by Womankind WorldWide , Action Aid and Institute of Development Studies4, has shown women are the cornerstone to peace building during and after conflicts. When women work together, they lead their communities through the adversity, violence and economical inequality that exists. It goes back to what Melinda Gates spoke of ,”real world problems”.
This doesn’t seem strange, if you think about it. Women are skillful at home to act as a mediator between children, create peaceful dialogue amongst family members, nurture trust and create decisions.
Furthermore, statistics have shown women play a vital role in reducing poverty and women dominate in caring industries such as nursing. Women have a strong flair for empathy, is it the lack of emotional intelligence or are women unaware that such skills actually create a shift in the global economic growth and stability? Are historical scars of disempowerment still standing in the way? Why are there not enough female representatives in the Leadership role? Is it emotional intelligence or failure of adequate leadership workshop for women.
When it comes to digital technology, there are two primary concerns:
1. A girls relationship to her body image and communication style online.
2. A woman's right to privacy, especially in the case of sexual violence.
1. Women are at the forefront on concerns of raising girls in this digital age of technology. Cyber bullying, peer pressure, social anxiety with hashtags such as #fitspiration, an increasing pressure to look good and the rising concerns of trolls. All examples reflecting that sexual violence has taken on a different nature through an online beast that we can’t control as yet. Visual images online still influence stereotyping: how we should look, be and act. The mental health of a woman is very much focused on how she feels about herself and given the right solution she can reduce the complexities of competition amongst each other as well the burn out rate caused by social anxiety.
Finally, There is the ongoing concern of sexual violence and injustice surrounding women in society. An article published on the 27th June “victims get terrible deals says out going commissioner”5 shares the traumatising after effects a woman undergoes once the violence has taken place. In fact, the number of reports are low, because women don’t feel safe how their privacy is managed.
Victims are given papers to sign and without realizing it, give away their privacy and permission to access their personal information. Such problems prevent women to feel in control as they try to restore their confidence. A victim should have the right to get legal advice prior to signing any consent form and understand all the advantages and disadvantages: To who, where and why and how her personal data will be disclosed. Her protection, her right.
Women need an alternative digital solutions to empower their confidence to speak up, voice concerns and offer solutions that work for them: their body, their life, their right.
I have shared with you a few stories, statistics and useful information in the area of career, leadership, and security. Why is important to empower women in society? She cares. She cares about her family, loved ones and even global matters. She puts herself last but we can say, with tongue in cheek, without a woman, society would not exist. We need to fill the invisible gaps by continuous education to empower women and men to the point it’s no longer is a discussion but a normality for all beings to treat each other as equal, respectful and our basic human rights are the same. I leave you with a quote from Coco Chanel: A girl should be two things ” who and what she wants” .
1. Article from DFID strategic vision for gender equality, 2018
2. Gender Equality at every stage: a roadmap for change, HM Government, July 2019
3. Momentum4 Publishes Women in Leadership Report, 1 February 2019, Joseph Bradfield
4. Women, Peace and Security, www.womankind.org.uk
5. Sexual Violence victims get “terrible deal” says outgoing commissioner , the Guardian, 27th June 219, Owen Bowcott
6. Melinda Gates Wants Tech to Wake Up to Women’s Empowerment, Wired, Emily Dreyfuss, 5th September 2019
7. How far women in STEM come in the last 100 years? , Women in STEM, Kirsten Bodley, 10th April 2019