Sex, lives and stereotypes

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Lively debate and inspiring words entertained a packed audience at our 2015 annual meeting held in central London.

Over 200 delegates filled the lecture hall to hear speakers that included a Dame, Baroness, MP and Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Arts. They were welcomed by Fawcett’s Chief Executive Sam Smethers who gave an update on the year’s progress and plans to speed up the pace of change in the forthcoming year.

Dame Jenni Murray hosted the discussions on the issues facing women today. She noted that it had been a significant week with direct action in Leicester Square, release of the film Suffragette and four women guests on the Graham Norton Show, but also that the same figures that highlight women’s disadvantage keep coming back

Topics raised ranged from the pensions gap and how we value different jobs to violence against women. The merits of quotas proved one of the hottest debates. The general, but not unchallenged, view was that, after 45 years of anti discrimination legislation, quotas are worth a try, particularly in sectors where there is a clear failure to improve women’s participation, such as the financial sector.

Jo Churchill MP, who sits on the women’s equality select committee, believes that stereotypes are still ingrained. She emphasised the importance of mutual support and sisterhood and spoke candidly of her own experiences that led her to becoming an MP.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Arts, argued that equality and social justice must go hand in hand and that a good society needs to transform the way it thinks about and values care. An innovative new partnership announced at the meeting offers Fawcett members a considerable discount on Royal Society membership.

Keynote speaker Baroness Shirley Williams inspired the audience with her words of wisdom garnered from over 50 year in politics. With the perceived increase in violence against women, she wondered whether feminism has created a crisis of confidence in boys and men. She emphasised the importance of teaching boys about getting involved in family life and the crucial role fathers play in bringing up children.

The peer gave ringing endorsement and encouragement about the contribution we can make: “It’s important that you and the Fawcett Society draw attention to what you see happening and bring it to the attention of MPs. Governments need intelligent, committed, active women to keep saying ‘take up this issue’.”

The event featured a video made by students from Ealing Studios Film College on the stereotyping that children readily absorb and was also streamed live on the internet for remote viewing.

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