I gave a talk to students at the London School of Economics (LSE) called A New Gender Agenda this week as one of 18 speakers invited to take part in a day of “inspiring talks to promote the development of tomorrow’s thinkers and leaders”.
The aim of the TEDxLSE event was to support a generation of innovation, critical thinking and leadership in order to promote meaningful change in the world.
This post captures some the key points covered in the talk.
I wanted to give the audience an understanding of why equality work is important and invite them to take a new view of gender equality. It’s not that usual for men to talk about gender equality and those who do tend to come from a place of either pro-feminism or anti-feminism.
The ‘isms’ I prefer are optimism and activism.
I am an optimist because I believe we can create a world where every man, every woman, every girl and every boy can flourish and fulfill their greatest potential in a way to contributes to the good of all.
And as an activist I am interested in how gender provides opportunities to work with people to help them fulfill their potential in the areas of life that are most important to them.
When I was a boy what was important to me was beating my friends at Top Trumps. It’s a card game where each pack has a unique theme like dinosaurs or fast cars. My favourite was footballers. Each card had a different player on it with a list of measures showing his ‘score’ in categories like age, height, games played, goals scored.
You play one card at a time and when it’s your turn you try to pick one measure that you think will score higher than everyone else. And even if you have the worse card in the pack – like a 19 year old apprentice who had played half a game and scored no goals – you still have a chance of winning.
So for example if you pick ‘height’ and the boy on your left has a player 5 foot 9, the girl on you right has a player who is 5 foot 11 and your player is 6 foot 2 – then you win.
And it strikes me that this is what we do in the world of equalities. We play Top Trumps with people’s lives. If you run a country or city, one of the things you do is measure how well your citizens are doing according to different measures – and you compare different communities with each other to find out who’s ‘winning’ and who’s ‘losing’.
And if you find that your Black and Minority Ethnic communities, for example, are losing in terms of health, education, jobs, vulnerability to crime, in the world of equality you don’t say why are THEY doing so badly you ask why are WE doing so badly. In the world of equality we ask ourselves what are the barriers that this community faces and what can we do differently in future to help this community get better access to outcomes from education and health and jobs and community safety.
But in the world of gender equality it’s different.
For example, we have an international league table for gender equality created by the World Economic Forum that ranks 134 countries from Iceland to Yemen. It’s like a global game of gender Top Trumps.
Each country is ranked by four measures – wealth, power, health and education – and although there are clearly huge differences in levels of gender equality all over the world – there are some common themes.
The measures used for wealth and power show that in all countries men on average scored higher than women for most categories.The measures used for healthy life expectancy show that women all over the world are doing better than men and the measures for education show that there are more countries where women are doing better than men than vice versa.
Now there are a couple of quirks in the Global Gender Gap Report that are worth mentioning.
First it measures the quantity not the quality of gender equality. So a country like Lesotho in Africa where men have a life expectancy of 38 years and 40% of the population live below the International Poverty Line of US $1.25 a day – because the gap between men and women is narrow, this country ranks in the top ten.
Meanwhile the UK which has a much higher quality of equality – better education, better health, more wealth – comes 16th, lower down the table than Lesotho because there is a bigger gender gap.
The point here is that if UK women started dying sooner and men started earning less then we would be measured to have a better quantity of gender equality. But would that give us a better quality of equality?
The second quirk of this game of Global Gender Top Trumps is that it doesn’t measure gender inequality – what it actually measures is women’s inequality. So there are basically three rankings – unequal, equal and even more equal.
So when women get a lower score on one of the measures it is ranked as UNEQUAL – for example in the UK where 69% of women are in paid work compared with 82% of men – women are measured as being UNEQUAL in terms of economic participation.
When women get an equal score on one of the measures it is ranked as EQUAL – for example in Sweden where 98% of men and women went to secondary school – women are measured as being EQUAL in terms of participation in secondary education.
But when men get a lower score on one of the measures it isn’t ranked as UNEQUAL it’s ranked as MORE EQUAL for example……………click here to read part 2 now…..