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Oxford Open Learning Trust | March 8th, 2016

Education must close society’s gender gap     

Two welcome news items appeared last week. First, the reinstatement of Feminism as an A level subject; second, the setting up of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work. Two advances. Why are they needed? Because we need to know why individuals and groups are unable to reach their potential, and such a problem, even in Britain in this day and age, often applies to women.

So how do we know something’s wrong? Well, it’s not hard to find issues. Globally, 75% of the world’s poor are women. In 155 countries there is legislation to prevent women reaching certain high status jobs. Here, 29% of British MPs are women, which is a record for us and a very welcome one. However, in terms of such numbers, internationally it still leaves us at around 50 in the list of international parliaments, of which there are 150 – and we’re supposed to have the ‘mother’ of parliaments. Further, apparently we’ve just, for the first time, dropped out of the World Economic Forum’s top twenty list of gender equality countries. So you could argue that things are getting somewhat worse!

So what can be done? For me, the answer lies in different forms of education. And the provision of greater encouragement is a basic but vital necessity, so that girls and women will enter fields of study and career areas that they are not traditionally drawn to. Obviously, politics is one of these, but science, engineering and management are all short of women. On a more domestic level, is there not room for a type of family education that does not just focus on bringing up children but also encourages more equal responsibility round the home?

Some of you might welcome the creation of the Women’s Equality Party, which seeks to advance the cause of women. Between all these things – education, the new political party, universities and the parliamentary working group – we might well improve women’s welfare and prospects. A proper, modern society demands it.