There seemed little to celebrate around International Women’s Day this year. But let that be the motivation to make things better
The week began with International Women’s Day. And it’s all gone downhill from there.
Actually, it didn’t even start very well.
On Monday it was revealed that PM Boris Johnson won’t be taking paternity leave, despite repeated statements over the last year that he will. The U-turn is hardly surprising. Partly because this government has earned a gold plated reputation for U-turns over the last year. Partly because it always seemed unlikely that Boris Johnson, a man who has yet to answer a straight question about how many children he actually has, would suddenly change and become a hands on dad to his latest offspring, Wilfred.
But it’s still profoundly depressing.
The PM is, in this year in particular, probably the most visible man in the country. And yes he has a heavy workload. That was the excuse his press secretary gave for him skipping out on paternity leave. But when Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand went off on maternity leave it was meant to signify that no-one is too important to be able to take some time out for their family. Our PM has signalled that actually he is too busy.
The comparison is also interesting of course because while Ardern has been lauded across the globe for her handling of the pandemic in New Zealand our Prime Minister has run up one of the worst death tolls anywhere in the world. That’s not a coincidence. Ardern draws on her skills and experience as a parent. She has empathy, perspective, and the confidence to surround herself with colleagues she knows can take over the reins. All qualities not just vital when facing a global health emergency but also key to a successful workplace or household.
We know that role modelling can have a huge impact on behaviour. It’s why we feature such a range of interesting and inspiring dads on this site. Each not just getting the benefits of working differently but handing on those advantages by talking about it and making it easier for others to follow in their footsteps.
The disappearance of Sarah Everard showed why that is ever more necessary. The details will have to come out in court but the incident appears appalling. And the way other women reacted to it telling. Social media was awash with women telling their own stories of feeling unsafe, taking steps to avoid potential danger when out alone. The common theme seemed to be an attitude of resignation, that these women are fed up but worn down. It made for tragedy compounded.
Something’s got to shift.
Let it be men, their role and their attitudes. If you’ve read this far I’m assuming you’re already on board with the idea that men can challenge stereotypes, make the world a better place through simple actions whether that is ensuring you give the woman who got off the bus in front of you some space or taking paternity leave. But we also need to speak up. Reassure everyone that there are enough male allies out there that if we work together we can make the changes that everyone wants and needs and, vitally, that everyone gains from.
The days after International Women’s Day have felt dark for the cause of gender equality. Here’s hoping the weeks and months that follow will see improvement, allyship, and action.