The marking this week of the 100th anniversary of women suffrage was a bittersweet moment. It was both a reminder of how far we have come and just how far we have to go to be a truly equal and inclusive society. The 1918 Representation of the People act also included a widening of the franchise to all men over 21, which should have been a hint. The category of newly enfranchised women was narrow – women over 30 who owned or were married to owners of property. It wasn’t for another 10 years, with the Equal Franchise Act, that true voting equality was achieved. It was a huge step for women and a vindication of many years of campaigning by women, sometimes at huge personal cost. But the gender journey was not completed by that huge step – in truth there are still many steps to be travelled before gender equality is achieved.
Equal pay is one example. Despite legislation passed in 1970, another step on the gender equality journey, women still face discrimination over their pay packets with Glasgow Council and BBC being but two of many high profile examples. Access to some roles remains hugely challenging; only 32% of women are MP’s – it may be the highest ever but its still not enough; only 4% of women are CEO’s in the FTSE 100 companies. One 2016 report noted there were more men called David than there were women CEO’s. These things are moral scandals for what they expose about how far we still have to go in the name of equality.
The powerful and profound #metoo campaign exposed the deep-rooted heart of discrimination where men just did not treat women as they would expect to be treated. At their very core they did not value women as equals. Discrimination may have systemic consequences such as pay and who gets to vote, or be seen as suitable for a particular job, but the real systemic changes required are fundamentally attitudinal – it begins with our values. Each of us. Societal change begins and is founded on each of us. Legislation can and does help bring change but this is about what each of us believe about the nature of the human condition – do we value each other as equals, whatever our gender.
I believe the very concept of gender is as much a social construct as it is a statement of biological difference. Far smarter people than me have spent lifetimes exploring this so I won’t pretend to be any kind of expert. But it is clear what we understand to be gender is much more than biology; it’s about a very fluid mix of expectations, assumptions, prejudices, solidarity and much more. It’s much more than who is male of female – they are but two of many ways of identifying our gender. It’s about who we are and how we relate to others.
At Cyrenians we take a very person-centered approach as core to our way of working. We begin with the person as they see themselves. The journeys we travel are led by each persons own ambitions and sense of who they are. Though those we journey with are usually seeking a change in their circumstances, it is a change on their own terms with their definitions of success being core. In truth, we are all travelling a journey of change and contributing to each others flourishing by how we are with each colleague, volunteer and the people we journey with. We are, I hope, an organisation where women and men feel they can flourish, whatever their role or reason for being part of our life together, as an organisation of shared journeys.
The journey to equality continues. It is in part campaigning, in part protesting, in part challenging, in part breaking barriers and pushing boundaries, and in part living the change we wish to see. In marking 100 years since some women got the vote, it is by living the change in all we do, professionally and personally, that we shall one day reach our destination and the journey will be over.
8th February 2018