International Women's Day, 8th March 2022
In 1945, following the end of World War Two, the newly formed United Nations (UN) produced the UN charter in which equality between men and women was stated as a key goal for all UN members. However, in 2020 - 75 years later - the UN acknowledged that there was still 'widespread gender inequality' across its member states.
Mainstream patriarchal society often underplays the extent of gender inequality in Britain today, and can lead us to believe that the campaigns for improved women's rights are no longer a pertinent fight, but the evidence speaks for itself. In 2021, data analysis website Statista, stated that on the Global Gender Gap Index, which tracks gender disparity across the globe, Britain was in 23rd place, below other powerful European countries such as Germany and France.
The government also proudly stated in its 2018 Gender Equality Monitor Report (GEM), that women are now earning 17.9% less than men, which according to their findings is 'at its lowest level since records began.' But this is far from positive news. To break it down, a man in a managerial post could be paid £80,000 a year whilst a woman with the same experience and qualifications might earn £65,680 for the exact same job and that's not even taking into consideration the fact that it is less likely for women to get managerial positions in the first place. Yes, it's progress but it is proof that the fight is far from over in 2022. The education sector is a powerful example of the gender inequality we are still faced with today. The GEM goes on to report that:
'While women dominate the education sector, they tend to work in lower paying phases and are underrepresented in leadership roles. For example, in secondary schools women make up 38% of head teachers, despite representing 63% of the teacher workforce.'
So, what can we as educators do to help shrink the glaring gender gap? Firstly, it is important that we ensure the voices of a wide range of women are amplified through education. We need to amplify women's social history through exploring the lives of ordinary women, not just those few in positions of power. Hallie Rubenhold does this adeptly in her book The Five, which explores the lives of the Jack the Ripper victims prior to their murders and uses their lives as lens through which to analyse Victorian womanhood. Also, to me, teaching women's history does not necessarily mean only addressing those women that are seen as heroes, but also those that have been vilified for their actions and views. In order to have true equality women need to be understood as capable of being both heroes and aggressors. Both of these roles are often associated with masculinity, but women are equally capable of amazing and horrific actions.
It is also incredibly important that women's history is not tagged on to other elements of curricula as an afterthought. Just like all marginalised histories, as educators we need to be ensuring that women's history is a part of ongoing studies. Although International Women's Day is a useful tool to help us reflect on how we are addressing women in our curricula, it should not be the only time women's history is addressed. So far this year I have seen some outstanding examples of those educators who have gone above and beyond in marking IWD 2022, including one school who is using it as an opportunity to amplify not only White-British women's histories, but British women from an array of cultural backgrounds. Notably, an exploration of Uzma Amireddy who was the first British-Muslim woman to wear hijab whilst on duty for the British police force.
As a woman myself, it seems to me that whilst systemic sexism plays a significant role in gender inequality in employment, some of this may be down to women's own expectations and views of themselves and their perceived roles in society. Surely by teaching about an array of interesting, exciting, brave and scary women we would be fuelling the next generation of young women with self-belief and all young people with an embedded notion of gender equality that challenges any potential notions of masculinity and femininity.
Excitingly, Diverse History UK have been invited to speak at this year‘s International Women’s Day Unconference, where we will be running a workshop on amplifying women‘s voices through education.
Tickets can be bought here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/womened-london-international-womens-day-2022-unconference-tickets-254848517777?ref=eios