Maths: the same in every country?

by Rose Cook, PhD candidate at the Institute of Education, University College London.

Think women aren’t good at maths? Depends on where you’re a woman. 

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(We never miss a chance to quote Mean Girls here at Women Are Boring)

Do you know the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit? Can you interpret information from line graphs in news articles? Calculate how many wind turbines would be needed to produce a certain amount of energy (given the relevant information)?

These may seem like basic tasks, but if you are a woman living in the UK, Germany or Norway, the chances are you would struggle with them more than a comparable man. If you live in Poland, however, you might even outperform a male counterpart.

Why this variation in skills, and why does it appear in some countries and not others?

For some, these findings, from the 2011 international survey of adult skills, run by the OECD,  will confirm their existing beliefs. In spite of women being more academically successful than men, the perception that ‘women can’t do maths’ is widely held. A recent experiment [1] showed that both genders believe this to be true: both male and female subjects were more likely to select men to perform a mathematical task that, objectively, both genders fulfil equally well. In her successful book ‘The Female Brain’, Louann Brinzedine argued that women are ‘hard wired’ for communication and emotional connection, while men’s brains are oriented towards achievement, solitary work and analytical pursuits.

Another camp of social scientists argue that such narratives misrepresent the facts.  Janet Shibley Hyde and colleagues insist that, at least in the United States, men and women’s cognitive abilities are characterised by similarity rather than difference. Reviewing findings across many studies of gender differences on standardised mathematics tests, these authors found that ‘even for difficult items requiring substantial depth of knowledge, gender differences were still quite small’[2].

The fact that gender differences show up on an international survey of numeracy skills is a puzzling addition to an already contentious picture. Of course, not all maths tests are created equal. The difference may in some way reflect the way the survey conceptualises skills. Distinct from mathematical ability, applied numeracy skills are described as:

‘the ability to use, apply, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas’.[3]

Crucially, individuals who are ‘numerate’ should be able to apply these abilities to situations in everyday life. Perhaps these ‘everyday’ maths skills are more biased by gender than the measures used in other studies?

Numeracy: the ‘new literacy

I argue that we should take these gender differences seriously. More and more, jobs now require numeracy skills, both to perform basic tasks and to support ICT skills. Outside work, numeracy skills are increasingly required to make sense of the world around us. They help us to grasp concepts such as interest rates and inflation, which help us to deal with money. Moreover, according to the British Academy,

‘the ability to understand and interpret data is an essential feature of life in the 21st century: vital for the economy, for our society and for us as individuals. The ubiquity of statistics makes it vital that citizens, scientists and policy makers are fluent with numbers’.

The importance of numeracy has been recognised recently in the UK with the establishment of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Maths and Numeracy, the National Numeracy charity, and initiatives such as Citizen Maths.

International variation

Particularly curious is the large variation across countries in the size of the gender difference. Figure 1, below, shows that, among adults aged between 16 and 65, the male advantage in applied numeracy skills is particularly large in Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, while it is virtually non-existent in Poland and Slovakia. The graph shows raw differences in average skill scores; although gaps reduce somewhat when controlling for age, family and immigration background and education, they remain.

Figure 1: Mean numeracy skills by gender, International Survey of Adult Skills, 2012

numeracy-graphic

Source: Author’s calculations using data from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). Survey and replicate weights are applied. Numeracy scores range from zero to 500. For more information on the survey, please see: http://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/publications.htm

Any genetic component is unlikely to vary internationally [4], suggesting a substantial role for cultural, institutional or economic factors that vary across countries.

My PhD study

Given that the survey tests adults who have many experiences behind them, isolating the causes of gender differences and cross-country variation is far from simple. We are socialised into gendered preferences, motivations and skills from our earliest years [5]. We go on to make gendered choices in our educational lives, our careers and our leisure activities. All of these life domains contribute to the skills we end up with in adulthood. To some, a choice-based explanation is unproblematic; determining one’s own destiny is a core value in many contemporary societies. However, this side-steps the question of where preferences come from. Skill differences in adulthood may well reflect individuals’ choices; however, the choices themselves are likely to be influenced by a complex mixture of cultural, educational, economic and institutional factors; which vary in their salience across countries.

In my PhD study, I focus on education and labour market explanations. A key task for my research is disentangling why gender differences in numeracy skills are relatively large in countries typically considered ‘gender egalitarian’. For example, Scandinavian countries consistently top the rankings of  the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, and are held up as bastions of gender equality. Yet Norway, Sweden and Denmark show among the largest gender differences in adults’ applied numeracy skills. Poland, Slovakia and Spain are not known for being particularly progressive on gender equality, yet they show among the smallest differences.

School and skills

One possibility is that gender differences arise from what girls and boys are exposed to while they are at school. Despite a similar basic structure, education systems across the world differ in the extent to which subjects are optional or compulsory. For example, in the UK, mathematics was not compulsory in upper secondary education until recently; whereas in other countries this has long been the case. Where numerate subjects are not compulsory, they may be less valued, and this could have created more scope for gender to affect subject and career choices. There is also wide variation in the types of mathematics learning boys and girls are exposed to across countries, as well as between schools and classes within countries.

Work and skills

Another possibility is that differences in skills are related to the types of jobs that women and men pursue once they leave education. In the majority of countries in the study, occupational segregation is still widespread in spite of female’s superior performance in education, and is partly to blame for the continuing gender pay gap.  Gender occupational segregation is particularly rife in Scandinavian countries, although this has been improving in recent years [6]. Countries with strong gender segregation in jobs promote gender norms about what careers are appropriate and accessible for men and women. This is likely to drive the early choices that contribute to skills in adulthood. In contrast, in some countries gender segregation of jobs is less pronounced, which may set more egalitarian norms for skill development. Moreover, given the link between more demanding, highly skilled jobs and skill development in adulthood, concentration into lower paid, more routine jobs could affect the extent to which women are able to gain skills at work. In some countries’ labour markets, women may perceive weaker incentives to develop mathematical skills than their male counterparts, preferring more typically ‘feminine’ ones, such as communication and literacy skills.

In my view, skills gaps are among the hurdles we need to overcome in order to attain full economic equality between men and women. Using international comparisons, my research aims to locate gender differences in applied numeracy skills within a broader, institutional context.  This is important both to correct the assumption that differences are ‘fundamental’ or ‘natural’, and to design effectively-targeted policies to equalise skills. I use a variety of quantitative techniques in my research which isolate factors associated with gender differences at both the individual and country levels. This should broaden the discussion beyond the common focus on encouraging girls to make gender ‘atypical’ choices in education, which neglects both males and the broader social context in which skill differences develop. Moreover, while there is a large amount of research on gender and education, skills inequalities among adults are less often addressed. Yet they affect adults’ lives in profound ways [7]. I hope to show some of the ways in which skill differences among adults are not fixed by early experiences and biology, but malleable according to social context.

Sources:

[1] Reuben, E., Sapienza, P. and Zingales, L. (2014). ‘How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (12), 4403-4408.

[2] Hyde, Janet S., et al. (2008) Gender similarities characterize math performance. Science 321 (5888) pp. 494-495 (p.495)

[3] OECD (2013) PIAAC Numeracy: A conceptual framework (p. 20) Paris: OECD.[4] http://www.statlit.org/pdf/1999-Steen-ASCD-Education-Leadership.pdf

[4] Penner, A.M. (2008) Gender differences in extreme mathematical achievement: An international perspective on biological, social, and societal factors. American Journal of Sociology 114 (supplement) S138–S170.

[5] Maccoby, E. E., and D’Andrade, R. G. (1966) The development of sex differences. Stanford University Press.

[6] Bettio F and Verashchagina A (2009) Gender Segregation in the Labour Market: Root Causes, Implications and Policy Responses in the EU. Brussels: European Commission.

[7] Carpentieri, J. C., Lister, J., Frumkin, L., & Carpentieri, J. (2010). Adult numeracy: a review of research. London: NRDC.

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Science and the City: An interview with Laurie Winkless

Laurie Winkless is the writer of the recently published book ‘Science and the City’. Science and the City has already received fantastic reviews, with the book described as ‘fascinating, lucid and entertaining’, and ‘a wonderful source of fascinating information’. With a background in science research, Laurie now works in science communication (follow her on Twitter here). We met Laurie before the Irish launch of her book at the Science Gallery in Dublin at the end of August (The Science Gallery sold out of copies of Science and the City mere minutes after the launch ended!). Laurie was really kind and gave us a half-hour of her time during what has been a very busy month since her book was published. Read on to find out more about her book, her new-found love of London Underground tunnels, mealworms, jiggly atoms, the Mars Curiosity Rover, women in science,  gendered toys, and more!

Tom Lawson

Laurie and her book in one of Laurie’s beloved rail tunnels in London! Photo: Tom Lawson

Science and the City

Women Are Boring: Congratulations on the launch of the book! It’s getting a great reception! What is your favourite fact in the book?

Laurie Winkless: One thing I hadn’t realised before I started writing the book was that I am obsessed by tunnels! I get on the London Underground (the tube) pretty much every day, and I don’t tend to really think about it, but when I started hanging out with tunnel engineers I developed a real love and affection for tunnels. Somewhere deep inside me, there’s a train nerd! That is my favourite part of the ‘today’ science. As for the ‘tomorrow’ science, I’m excited about research around trying to reduce landfills by letting mealworms eat the plastic waste. This seems to be completely fine for the mealworms, and it gets rid of our non-biodegradable waste! I also spoke to an architect in Colombia who is using waste plastic to build houses. He melts down the plastic and turns it into what are almost lego blocks that clip together. The reuse of plastic is really interesting; we’re so silly with our use of plastic – it takes so long to biodegrade.

WAB: What inspired you to write the book?

LW: It’s been a combination of living in London, and my research background. I’ve lived in London for eleven years now and I think you get a bit obsessed with the city – even if you’re complaining about it, you’re still talking about it! Getting from A to B is a big thing for everyone in London, and that’s where my love of transport came from. My research background is in material science, which tends to be quite a practical, hands-on research area and is very applied to the real world. I kept coming across new technologies, building materials, battery technologies, the use of nanotechnology in food packaging, for example, and I thought ‘you know what? Maybe I can help people understand how cities work today, and also do some future-gazing’.

Thermoelectric energy harvesting

WAB: You’ve had a really cool career – you have a BSC in Physics with Astrophysics from Trinity College Dublin, an MSc in Space Science from University College London, you worked as a researcher at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory for seven years, and you work in science communication. Your pet topic is thermoelectric energy harvesting – tell us a bit about that.

LW: Thermoelectric materials are solid materials, with no moving parts, but they can transform heat into electricity. They can do it because they use these two separate properties of materials that overlap. Think of a hot cup of tea in a cold cup – eventually the cup will get warm and the tea will cool down, so the temperature equalises. With thermoelectric materials, if you can keep that temperature difference – keeping the hot end hot and the cold end cold – what you end up doing is you give energy to the atoms inside the material – which is what heat does all the time. Whether you realise it or not, we live in a universe of jiggling atoms. The higher the temperature is, the more atoms jiggle. That’s basically how we measure temperature – it’s how jiggly atoms are. So, an atom will only ever stop moving at absolute zero, which we can’t really reach. When you’re giving out hot and cold you’re getting all this heat energy; the atoms are jiggling like crazy! But in thermoelectric materials, that also spits out electrons, and a stream of electrons is electricity. If you strap loads of these thermoelectric materials together – for example a square of 64, 120, or 500 of these blocks of thermoelectric materials –  even though each one is only producing tiny amounts of electricity, you turn the waste heat into electricity.

WAB: What was your own research in this area on?

LW: My research was on the car industry in particular. It looked at how we can capture all of that waste heat in car exhausts, because car exhaust temperatures can be almost 500 degrees Celsius – that is energy that is not helping to move the car forward. It is wasting fuel. In fact, only about a third of the energy in fuel actually moves our car. Almost all of the rest is thrown away as heat. We were trying to design devices made with thermoelectric materials that we could strap on to car exhausts. Then you’d have the car exhaust hot, the air outside a bit cooler, and harness that temperature difference to have electricity being produced. We could then use that to do other things in the car, like run the radio or some of the electronics, so that fuel doesn’t need to be used for those things.

mars-curiousity

The Mars Curiosity Rover, which is powered by thermoelectric materials. You can follow the Rover on Twitter here! Photo: NASA

WAB: Amazing! What else can thermoelectric materials be used for?

LW: There are lots of other ways you can use thermoelectric materials. The Mars Curiosity Rover is powered by a thermoelectric generator. It has a tiny piece of a plutonium on the inside. Because plutonium is radioactive, it naturally decays and produces heat, and then there’s all these fins around it so the outside is much cooler, and that powers the entire Rover! They’ve been using thermoelectric materials in the space industry for a long time – we’re just catching up on Earth now!

WAB: What do you think will be the next big application of thermoelectric materials?

LW: One thing that people are really interested in is power plants. Most electricity plants produce heat. A lot of them will burn fuel, usually coal or gas, which heats up an enormous tank of water. That tank of water turn to steam, the steam turns a turbine, and the turbine produces electricity. So actually, a generation of electricity is all about heat. There are lots of researchers who are now asking ‘can we capture some of the heat that we’re producing to make power plants more efficient?’. We want to move away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, but this is a good stop-gap in between: making fossil fuels a bit more efficient until we get to the point at which people realise the value of renewables.

Science – the natural option!

WAB: What inspired you to go into science?

LW: I’m quite a curious person. I always have been, and I always wanted to study science – I can’t remember when I first thought ‘I want to be a scientist.’ I like taking things apart, and trying to put them back together again – I used to do that and have bits left over and think ‘oh no, I haven’t done a good job!’ I’ve always enjoyed hands-on, practical work. I like using my hands and questioning the everyday, so science was a natural option for me!

WAB: Tell us about your career path, how did you go from working in a lab to science communication?

LW: My career path has felt more like random leaps around! I did science communication alongside my research, and I was always visiting school, fairs and festivals to talk to the public about science. I decided to take a break from the lab to try and develop communication skills and see if I was any good, and I got the book deal out of that! I really enjoy science communication, and I think that helps. You give more of yourself to something when you enjoy it. People engage with you more. I wanted the book to be authentically myself, because as a scientist, when you’re writing papers, you are often editing your personality out – and that’s an important thing, it has to be neutral. But when I’m not writing papers, I can show a bit more of my personality. I was very nervous about doing that, to be honest. I think it was easier to be logical and very neutral, and I was very anxious about writing the way I talk because I felt it was too informal. It’s scary!

WAB: It is scary! We were very nervous when we launched Women Are Boring, both about putting ourselves out there and wondering whether we’d be taken seriously.

LW: Exactly! You feel like there’s a nakedness, don’t you?

WAB: Its something you’re not used to really doing when you’re in an academic environment.

LW: Definitely. And I think, for sure, not everyone will enjoy it. But the book helped me get braver at being myself. One of the nicest compliments I’ve had about the book has been that it sounds like I’m sitting beside you on the sofa as you read the book. That’s a hugely positive and flattering thing for me. That was the hardest thing to do.

Women in STEM and the ‘leaky pipeline’

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WAB: What has your experience as a woman in science been like?

LW: I have to say, I’ve had very few negative experiences as a woman in science, and those negative experiences have almost never included my colleagues. I think a lot of my colleagues were completely gender-blind! I never felt treated any differently. The only time I did feel treated oddly was by ‘outsiders’, for want of a better word. For example, I had a situation in the lab once where we had a contractor in to install a high-voltage line for a piece of equipment that I had designed. My male colleague was in the lab with me, but it wasn’t his research project. The contractor just kept speaking to my male colleague – and my colleague was really embarrassed by this! It wasn’t his project, it wasn’t his thing. Eventually, my colleague said to the contractor ‘I really don’t know why you’re asking me this – she’s the boss.’ The contractor looked around at me and was shocked by this! Ordinarily I would be quite patient with things like that, but he got me on a bad day, and I said ‘if you could start speaking to my face, that would be great. I’d appreciate that.’ I then told him what we needed, when we needed it done by, and asked ‘do you think you can do it by this time? Because if you can’t, I can get someone else’. He was taken aback, but I shouldn’t have had to lower myself to that. But as I said, there have been so few moments like that, so experiences like that have really stood out. I’ve been lucky – others have been less lucky than I have.

WAB: What about the issue of keeping women in science? We know there’s a dearth of women in science once we get to a certain level in many areas.

LW: That is a big challenge. We’ve got a leaky pipeline. Like me, for example – I graduated with a STEM degree, I worked in research, and now I’ve stepped sideways from research into communication. But that decision wasn’t to do with me thinking that I couldn’t develop as a scientist – I just wanted to try this, to see if I was any good at it. However, many other women have left science careers at a similar time to me, or later, so we get to the point where we have very few female physics professors, for example. I think part of that is to do with how we can treat people as equally as possible. In an ideal world, things would be a meritocracy, but they so rarely are. That a bigger problem in STEM.

WAB: Absolutely. We attended the L’Oréal – UNESCO Women in Science awards in London in June, and one of the things we found really interesting was that many of the nominees, and those who were awarded fellowships, felt that an important thing about that funding is that it is flexible – they could use it towards childcare. Without that, they might have had to cut back on lab hours, for example. What do you think of that?

LW: In some research areas, a year out of research can be seen as career suicide. If you are a woman, and decide you want to have a child – which is a totally personal choice – you’re accepting the fact that you’re going to be a year out of the publications cycle, a year out of the grants cycle. That puts you back two or three years. You’re constantly on the back foot. We definitely need to be flexible around that kind of issue. But for those woman who don’t want to have children, there is also a problem that isn’t related to childcare. I don’t think its as simple as just being more flexible. I think the whole culture needs to change – which it is, slowly, but it needs to change faster!

let-toys-be-toys

Let Toys Be Toys!

WAB: What do you think we can do to encourage more women to go into STEM? Do you think we need to start encouraging girls quite early – is it too late by the time they’re going into university?

LW: I believe so. I volunteer for an organisation called ‘Let Toys Be Toys’, which I followed on Twitter for a long time before getting involved with them. The idea of the campaign is to stop the artificial gendering of toys. Why do we need pink aisles for girls, and blue for boys? Why can’t boys play with prams? Why do some girls think they’re weird if they play with garages? Its so silly. However different individuals are, those differences are not necessarily along gender lines – society projects much of it. By the time that children are six or seven years old, they already have independent thought. They already have their own ideas about things. If we’ve been telling them for the previous seven years that girls should play this way and boys should play that way, that will naturally influence their own view of themselves. I think the choices we make in our own homes with our children as just as important as the teachers and mentors they’re surrounded by in school and the wider educational world. I was never made to feel weird for my choice of toy. I was equally happy to play with a drill and to learn how to use hand tools as I was to play with My Little Ponies! Neither was ever questioned in any way. I felt confident enough to follow the things I enjoyed doing, rather than the things I felt I should be doing. I hope to have kids in the future, and that is something I’ll want to try really hard to pass on. I know it gave me the confidence to never question whether I could be a scientist. There was never a doubt in my mind that I could do that! I have my family to thank for a lot of that.

Inspirational women in science

WAB: Do you have any female scientist role models? Is there anyone who you think, if you were a young girl or a woman who is interested in science, would be really good to look at for inspiration? Apart from yourself, of course!

LW: I feel very privileged in that two of the endorsers on the back of my book are female physicists. One is Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who is originally from Northern Ireland. She’s an astrophysics professors, and she also discovered pulsars, and quite famously didn’t get the Nobel prize for it. She is a legend! To have her read my book and write a really positive comment about it was a huge, amazing moment – I almost cried, I was so excited! She is someone I’ve always respected. She has sometimes been presented as a victim, but she doesn’t see herself that way at all. She’s also been the President of the Institute of Physics, and has done lots of incredible stuff during her career, she’s written remarkable papers, and she’s also a thoroughly decent human being!

Another would be Athene Donald, also a professor of physics. She writes a lot about gender and about being a woman in physics, in a way that I really admire. She talks about the fact that barriers exist, but she’s not weighed down by them. I think that’s a great lesson for a young female scientist – to know that its okay to talk about those barriers, and we should talk about them. I felt so lucky to have her write a quote for the book, it’s really amazing!

There’s also an engineer called Linda Miller, who works on the London Crossrail project. I’ve been hanging out a bit with people working on that project for the past while. Linda is SO cool – as I said, she works on the Crossrail project so is rebuilding the Thames tunnel, which is very exciting. Before that, she was a civil engineer rebuilding certain sections of the Space Launch Complex at Cape Canaveral in Florida, and prior to that she was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Air Force! She’s had two incredible careers. She’s a brilliant communicator and a huge supporter of young women in engineering.

WAB: Are there any other science writers you recommend? We know you have further reading mentioned in your book, too.

LW: A writer I love is Mary Roach. She writes funny, popular science – I recommend everyone read Bonk, which is about the science of sex! Her and her husband had sex in an MRI machine as part of her research for the book, for example. She’s a legend! I love her too because she’s not a scientist but she takes science very seriously, and equally, she’s a brilliant storyteller. So she does that popular science interface really well. She’s very funny and very approachable, and I feel like we’re laughing together over a pint when I read her books. I love that. I’d love to aspire to that sort of work.

‘Look up!’

WAB: Back to your own book – what would you like the lasting result of the book to be? Would you like there to be something big that people take away from it?

LW: I really wanted the book to be a primer on how cities work. I went for breadth rather than depth, with enough detail so that people can get their teeth into it. My hope would be that this will be the kickstart for a lot of people to start thinking about science in a different way. That would be my ultimate dream – that it makes people think ‘I live in a city, and now I know how traffic lights work, where my water comes from, where my faeces go when I flush the loo! I’ve got a better understanding of the world around me, and now I’ll read the book she recommended at the back of her own book.’ I want it to be an entry point, to help people look at the world about differently and to realise that science and engineering has built everything around us. That would be an absolute dream! If I met someone in a few years who said ‘I read your book and that led me to do this, this and this’, I would cry! I’d be delighted! It’s a first book, and I saw first because I really want to write another one! I have an idea, but its very early stages. I’ve loved writing this book, as a project and as a process, and I hope my enthusiasm comes across.

WAB: Any final words to people as they walk around their cities?

LW: Look up! Look up when you look around your city and think about what you see. And also be a little bit more cynical about ridiculous reports about red wine both killing you and curing cancer! I hope the book makes people a tiny bit more scientific in their approach.

satc-laurie

Science and the City is published by Bloomsbury (ISBN9781472913227). You can buy it here from Amazon, or here from Bloomsbury. Go buy it for yourself, and for anyone you know with the tiniest interest in science. You never know who might be inspired, and who could be the next Jocelyn Bell Burnell or Laurie Winkless! 

#WakingTheFeminists: ringing the alarm for gender equality in theatre

by Women Are Boring.

WTF

Image via Broadsheet.ie

This month, we’ve decided to dedicate a feature to women in theatre, and what better way to do that than by talking about #WakingTheFeminists? Many of you in Ireland will likely be familiar with the movement already, but for those of you abroad, here’s a short explainer from the movement itself: Waking The Feminists is ‘a grassroots movement calling for equality for women across the Irish theatre sector.’ It started in response to the fact that, when Ireland’s national theatre, the Abbey theatre, launched its programme to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising, only one of the ten plays programmed was written by a woman, and only three were directed by women. In May 2016, the movement became the first organisation or person outside the U.S. to be presented with a Lilly Award, and has garnered support from people like Meryl Streep.

This feature brings together the voices of three women working in different aspects of theatre in Ireland – Áine Ní Laoghaire, an actor; Dr. Brenda Donohue, a researcher and dramaturg; and director Maeve Stone, who coined #WakingTheFeminists. We also have a video by young dramaturg Katie Poushpom on her ten favourite female theatre-makers from Ireland and abroad. Enjoy, be inspired, and do some waking of your own.

‘This campaign makes revolutionaries of us all’

by Áine Ní Laoghaire.

Aine Ni Laoghaire headshot 2015

Factory Girls, Frank McGuinness’s debut play, was inspired by the strong, difficult women he was raised by. Women who were capable. Women who could shift from aggressive to jovial, to heartbreakingly vulnerable in nothing more than an intake of breath. Revolutionary women, who refused to be walked on when the system worked against them.

In the year following the beginning of Waking The Feminists, a year of both centenary celebrations and calls to repeal the 8th amendment, it was a gift as an actor to represent women like this.In response to the #WakingTheFeminists campaign, Artistic Director of the Everyman Theatre, Julie Kelleher, had programmed a rehearsed reading series featuring only female (and Cork related) playwrights. The decision to stage Factory Girls was a conscious continuation of that response.

 A single play by a male playwright, outside of a Dublin-centric theatre world might not appear to have the potential to have any real impact. But the 11 women (5 actors, 2 stage managers, a director, a producer, a costume designer, and a hair and make up artist) hired for Factory Girls, and the predominantly female audience of the show might beg to differ. Despite female actors being in the majority of theatre graduates, only 38% of those women are working professionally at any given time. Theatre going audiences are made up of 60-70% women.

This audience was filled with groups of women. They cheered every night, without fail, at one characters defiant “Fuck off yourself” to a bullying husband. They shared their recollections of factory life with us afterwards in the bar. And without fail, every night, someone would comment on how “mad it is to see women like us up there.” Before Waking The Feminists I was as unfamiliar with my own stories and with my own voice.

In the Abbey, on the 12th of November 2015, I was struck by the articulacy and conviction with which other people spoke. But I remained silent. I was in the habit of doing so. I’d gotten so used to fighting for my voice to be heard that I’d stopped bothering to raise it in the first place. I’d so often been the only girl (as I was always referred to in the rehearsal room) that in order to join the boys club, I’d had to let all sorts of comments slide. But on hearing my own experiences echoed back to me from that stage on that day, something shifted, imperceptibly.

I began to feel uneasy certain comments were going unchallenged, and then when I wasn’t the person who challenged them. I started asking for apologies when I was spoken to disrespectfully inside or outside of the rehearsal room. I refused to audition for roles that were unnecessarily sexualised.

Those actions were my own way of responding to the Waking The Feminists campaign. They are minor in comparison to the Trojan work of those at the very heart of the campaign. But when we choose to commit to the ethos of Waking The Feminists, personally and professionally, this campaign make revolutionaries of us all.

#WTF: Translating Lived Experience into Numbers

by Dr. Brenda Donohue

#WakingTheFeminists is a grassroots movement that came about in reaction to a programme commemorating 1916 that did not include women in a significant way. In November 2015, after the Abbey Theatre announced a commemoration line-up that featured only one woman writer and three female directors, reaction on social media was swift and impassioned. Spurred on by Lian Bell’s Facebook post, a new feminist movement was born. This organisation, #WakingTheFeminists, now actively campaigns for gender equality in theatre in Ireland. Since November, the movement has grown, first in the virtual space of social media, and then in the real world through a series of large, public meetings, and informal get-togethers. #WakingTheFeminists has inspired women in diverse sectors, not just theatre, to recount their experiences and to search out ways to address gender imbalance.

As part of the #WakingTheFeminists movement, I, along with a team of volunteer researchers, am conducting a study that examines gender balance in the Irish theatre industry over the last 10 years. The study examines key creative and technical roles in theatre in the top ten Arts Council-funded organisations that produce or present theatre in Ireland. The project is receiving institutional support from the Irish Theatre Institute, the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, and from the Arts Council.

The impetus for this research came from a notable lack of statistical information on the issue in an Irish context. While the Irish Theatre Institute and Theatre Forum have recently published valuable studies on aspects of the Irish theatre industry, a comprehensive study of gender in Irish theatre has yet to be published. This was a particular challenge while researching and writing my doctoral thesis on contemporary female playwrights; although it was plain to see that there was a dearth of productions by women on the main Irish stages, there was no statistical evidence to back up anecdotal accounts.

In the context of such an informational vacuum, the real extent of the problem is currently not known. While we suspect that women playwrights and directors are underrepresented on the Irish stages, we simply can’t say for certain if this is true. A host of questions remain unanswered- Are women well represented in the roles of set and lighting designer? Are there more women in costume design than men?  Is the situation for women improving, or is it static?

If we do not understand the nature of the problem and its different facets, then it will be a challenge to find effective solutions to address the imbalance. Strategies and policies need to be written and implemented from a strong evidence base. This #WakingTheFeminists study, therefore, has two aims; firstly it will describe the problem of gender imbalance in Irish theatre in a nuanced way, and secondly it will create a baseline against which the effectiveness of proposed solutions can be measured.

The report emanating from this research will be published in November 2016. Until then, the team of volunteer researchers will be working at improbable hours to fill the identified informational gap!

‘#WakingTheFeminists has charged the air with new language’

by Maeve Stone.

Maeve Stone

My first response to the Abbey’s 2016 “Waking the Nation” programme launch last November was a tongue-in-cheek tweet: “Waking The Feminists”. Lian Bell began using it as a hashtag to centralise a wide conversation that had gathered unstoppable momentum online. And that, I guess, is how I accidentally named #WakingTheFeminists. Thing is, it’s pretty obvious and I know someone else would have thought of it if I hadn’t. I’m unendingly proud of my connection to this origin story for such a key moment in recent Irish theatre, but ultimately it feels like it was just looking for a mouth to come out of.

And I think that’s probably the single biggest asset of this whole movement. Nobody owns it, it belongs to us all. Asides from sounding incredibly idealist I think this perception has defined a few key qualities of the movement since its inception almost a year ago. People have taken ownership, using it as a platform to form networks and communities. This movement came into being because there was no public forum for discussion of feminist theatre in Ireland, or of the gender inequalities in policy and pay. In the months preceding it I had had several furtive chats – one even in the Abbey lobby – about the work of women in Ireland, bemoaning the absence of the word feminism in our cultural lexicon. It has also created a core #WTF team who have worked quietly and consistently with a set agenda.

Two things are coming (apart from Winter); The anniversary of the November meeting that will mark the end of that team’s year long commitment, and new artistic directors at The Abbey and The Gate. It’s inevitable that people will begin a review of what has been achieved in the past year, and some will claim that a noisy beginning faded too quickly. But I’ve seen behind the curtain – so to speak – and would challenge that opinion. There’s a sense when you sit in a room with the #WTF team that very little ego is in play. What they have sought, and are winning, is policy change. It’s not glamorous or dramatic. Foundational negotiations that will affect everything herein, but lack the narrative appeal of a big explosive, short lived event. For example, if The Abbey had changed its programme this would have appeared to many as the ultimate victory. But “Waking The Nation” was never the problem, it was a symptom of the problem. Having the skills and patience to figure out the way to begin to fix the source of a very structural issue is an entirely different beast. People like Lian, Sarah Durcan, Dairne O’Sullivan, Anne Clarke, Lisa Tierney Keogh, Maria Flemming, Lynne Parker, Caroline Williams, Aisling O’Brien, Niamh Ní Chonchubhair and Kate Ferris have maintained a quiet and relentless grip on the wheel. They had long-lasting policy change in mind and they’re getting it done. Sarah Durcan is even now an Abbey board member!

As for the new boys in the big houses… They walked into a new scene. One that’s humming with women’s voices. I’m hopeful that we, who have found each other, who have acted in solidarity, can continue to work on the foundational shifts. I think #WakingTheFeminists has charged the air with new language. It has opened up the space for feminist thinking in a town where the big houses (The Gate and The Abbey) could sometimes feel heavy with the sound of old, rasping, Herculean masculinity. And it’s important that we have this because the movement will continue in the hands of us all, this network, this community. When Lian and the team step away, the change won’t stop.

(Side note:  I suspect we’re going to need strong feminist networks working together for change in the next couple of years… #RepealThe8th)

Follow the #WakingTheFeminists movement on Twitter at @WTFeminists, and visit their site here.

Want to know about more women in theatre from all over the world? Katie has got you covered! Have a look at her video and learn about her ten favourite female theatre-makers, including Lady Augusta Gregory, co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, the National Theatre of Ireland; Lorraine Hansberry, the first African-American woman to write a play performed on Broadway; Teresa Deevy, an Irish dramatist and Cumann na mBan member from Waterford; and Pulitzer prize winner Suzan Lori-Parks.

“It puts you in a place like a bottle”: Stigma, shame, and gender based violence

By Carol Ballantine

I’m fascinated by stigma. It’s the way that social judgements, seemingly innocuous and even random in themselves, can determine the whole lives of individuals. Stigma increases HIV infections, it isolates people who need human support, it results in cruel discrimination. One Kenyan woman put it powerfully, in a conversation with researchers for the NGO Trócaire:

Stigma … it puts you in a place like in a bottle. You don’t know how you can get out of it… It’s like something that kills you slowly. It follows you everywhere you go ‘til it finishes you.”[1]

We all do it. We all stigmatise without even realising it. Identifying stigma is the first step to taking away its power.

Stigma

Stigma refers to the social judgement that particular characteristics or attributes are undesirable. The first theorist of the subject, Erving Goffman, referred to stigma as a “spoiled social identity”. This captures the sense that, owing to public judgement, one’s entire identity can be devalued – in the eyes of others, and even in one’s own eyes.

Stigmas attach to all sorts of attributes: behaviours; conditions; diseases and beliefs. The subject most closely associated with stigma in the popular mind, particularly in countries like Ireland, is mental health and mental illness. Certain diseases are also heavily stigmatised, such as HIV, leprosy and TB.

My research is beginning to look at how we can understand the impact of gender based violence by understanding the stigma that goes along with it.

In recent decades, the importance of stigma has been well established in the field of public health. Epidemiologists aim to understand how human interactions and behaviours affect health and disease conditions. Stigma is a crucial piece of this puzzle. Stigma prevents people from accessing the medical and psycho-social services that they need to overcome their afflictions. For example, estimates indicate that nearly two thirds of all Americans with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek help. This is particularly problematic when it comes to infectious diseases. In the case of HIV, not only does pervasive stigma prevent people from seeking medical care, it also prevents people from disclosing their HIV status to others, or discussing HIV with others. This tendency to conceal and avoid mention of the virus enables new infections and confounds attempts to control transmission.

silence-please

If we are ever to address large-scale public health issues like mental illness and HIV (among many others), the importance of tackling stigma is well established. But that’s not the only – nor even the most important – reason to address stigma. Because stigma has a corrosive effect on individual lives. It causes isolation and exclusion, the loss of family and friends at the very time when they’re most needed. It can cause self-doubt, self-blame, self-hatred. In the course of my work, I’ve spent time with lots of people who are (among other things) HIV positive, in Ireland and Honduras, Kenya and Ethiopia. When they’ve talked about their diagnosis, they’ve unfailingly talked about the stigma that goes with it. Sometimes it sounds like stigma is a symptom of the disease. Sometimes it sounds like stigma is worse than the disease.

Stigma and Gender Based Violence

I am working on a research project investigating the social impacts of gender based violence (GBV) against women. The term GBV refers to violence directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex[2]. While women, men, boys and girls can be the victims of gender-based violence, women and girls are the main victims. Like mental illness or HIV, violence against women is a global public health concern, since it is the cause of both morbidity and mortality in women of all ages. It’s also a global human rights concern: women worldwide can’t live their lives to the fullness of their potential because of physical, sexual, financial and emotional insecurity and trauma.

Womenareboring

Stigma is relevant when it comes to understanding gender based violence: both how the violence continues to be perpetrated, and how it impacts people.

Recent analysis of data across thirty low income countries showed that on average, only 6% of women exposed to intimate partner violence approached formal services such as health care or police.

While there are many reasons for women to avoid formal services, one of these is definitely a sense of judgement, of blame, and anticipation of gossip and social rejection. In one study, twenty so-called battered women from Israel discussed their feelings of self-stigma. Here is one woman speaking:

“In fact, why doesn’t a woman complain? She is ashamed that people would find out that she is beaten. She is ashamed to go to the police. This shame is one of the reasons that she doesn’t complain.” [3]

And another woman who was assaulted, from the same Kenya study as before:

“I fear that I will tell them [neighbours and friends] and they will start talking about me and laughing. I do not like that because they will know what is happening in my home and they will go around telling everyone about it.”[4]

We are living in a moment where this stigma is beginning to be recognised and named: that’s why concepts like rape culture and victim blaming are becoming commonplace in some communities and spaces. But stigma is a sticky phenomenon, and shifting it means seeing its many differing dimensions.

Complicating the public stigma that attaches to GBV is the shame that is an almost constant state for many women. Shame is not the same thing as stigma: it is a painful emotion involving a negative self-judgement that affects the whole self. Stigma produces shame, and this can be the most insidious impact of stigma, as it turns a person against herself. And there is good evidence that shame affects women more than men, and differently to men. For Freud, shame was “the feminine emotion par excellence”. Sandra Bartky argues that for many women it may be “the pervasive affective taste of a life”. Triggered by stigmatising public attitudes and gendered emotional dispositions (that is, emotional dispositions that are patriarchally constructed and shaped), shame can take hold on women. It silences them. It makes them complicit in their own victimisation. It enables the abuse and the violence to continue.

As with all other stigmatised conditions, stigma related to GBV is important for at least two reasons. First, for the undeniable impact that it has on individuals: the limitations that it places on their own physical and mental health (through failing to seek help, and loss of self-esteem) and through the isolation and mistreatment it often provokes, the gossip, cruelty and exclusion. And second, for the insidious role that stigma plays in enabling violence to continue. Stigma keeps women in abusive situations, blaming themselves for the violence, or fearing the judgement of others if they leave. It tells perpetrators that they are less than fully responsible, that the victim bears at least some, if not all of the blame. Of course stigma is not the only thing that holds gender based violence in place – but it’s a powerful contributor.

Stigma is a profoundly conservative force, policing the norms that are open to discussion. Because it operates internally in the psyche of stigmatised individuals, it often militates against solidarity, organising and collective action. And yet it works the other way too.

At times, the best reaction to having a label applied to you without your consent is to embrace the label, claim it, and use it as the basis of new forms of solidarity. This has happened to good effect with HIV – though nobody could say that the stigma has evaporated as a result. Stigmatised identities are often reactive and defensive (who would choose to define themselves as a survivor of domestic violence unless they felt they had to?). The support that develops within the community can stand in marked contrast to the continuing derision outside it. The responsibility for shifting the norms, attitudes and beliefs that inform stigma can’t be left to the victims of stigma alone.

Researching GBV stigma

My PhD research is looking at the impacts of gender-based violence, and the role of stigma and shame in amplifying and multiplying these impacts. One element of stigma is that, while it attaches to GBV almost everywhere, the dynamic is very different depending on the norms that prevail, the ways that people interact, and people’s material conditions and values. In my research, I’m focusing on migrant women living in Ireland. They already confront stigma and shame related to their migrant status, and often their status as women in their own communities. I want to know about how gender based violence has affected their lives, and the role stigma has played in this.

enjoy_the_silence

In spite of a critical absence of comprehensive data on experiences of violence, small studies emerge and shed light on this situation, as I hope my research will. This year Wezesha, an African diaspora organisation, released a damning report on the experiences of migrant women affected by conflict living in Ireland. The report is full of disturbing detail about migrant lives in Ireland, and the layers of trauma, victimisation and strength that emerge don’t fit in any easy frameworks. Nonetheless, the ring of stigma and shame sounds clearly through the noise:

“Women have even expressed how they are fearful of speaking with their doctor about their past experience of trauma, depression and stress saying that once it is entered into hospital records it will impact on their possibility of accessing jobs in the future. They indicated that all they want is to move on with their lives.” The threat of social opprobrium, holding people down.

I plan to investigate lifetime experiences of GBV among a small group of migrants in Ireland. I want to examine the ways that GBV has affected their lives and their communities, and the part that stigma and shame have played.

Implications

Spending four years on a research study feels a bit like self- indulgence. Like any apprenticeship, the deepest implications are personal. I am meeting myself in new ways, and of course encountering the ways in which this line of enquiry was prompted by my own extreme proclivity to shame.

I see the insidious power of stigma everywhere – and the dazzling strength of shamelessness.

While activists have done an excellent job of popularising the idea of victim-blaming, using a public health model to understand the patterns and effects of stigma enables us to view it clearly as a policy issue. This study will contribute to an understanding of how violence is experienced by marginalised individuals and the interventions that can help promote prevention, protection and punishment. Here in Ireland, we don’t have detailed knowledge about gender based violence (who is most affected, where and when?) – largely because of savage cuts to all but frontline services (the last comprehensive study on sexual violence in Ireland, for example, was conducted in 2002, when levels of migration into Ireland were far lower than they currently are, and migrants were not even included among the marginalised groups identified). This qualitative study will give an insight into one largely under-served group in the population, their experiences and the barriers they face to seeking help.

Beyond my small study cohort, I hope to show that stigma has an impact of its own on people’s lives, an impact that is additional to and separate from the violence itself. In as much as violence prevents people from taking part in community life, I want to examine the role that stigma plays. This has implications for the priority that we give to eliminating gender based violence – and for the ways in which we do so. I’m hoping that I can also shed more light on the seemingly intractable persistence of gender based violence, in every society in the world.

…..

[1] From an unpublished research study by Jessica Penwell Barnett and Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale, 2013

[2] This definition is drawn from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

[3] Buchbinder and Eisikovits, 2003

[4] Barnett and Matcika-Tyndale, 2013

L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards

By: Grace McDermott, Co-Founder of Women Are Boring.

The Awards:

Last week, Women Are Boring had the honour of attending the L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Awards. We had the chance to meet and learn about some of the women carrying out ground-breaking scientific research work in Ireland and the UK.

Approximately 30% of researchers in the world are women*, a statistic which is notoriously lower for women in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Women comprise  a mere 15% of the UK STEM workforce, and to this day only 3% of all Nobel prizes in the sciences have been awarded women. As such, it is no surprise that a recent study showed that some 23% of current female science students in the UK “won’t” or “aren’t sure” whether they will pursue a career in science.

The L’Oreal Women in Science Programme “recognizes the achievements and contributions of exceptional females across the globe, by awarding promising scientists with Fellowships to help further their research.” Founded eighteen years ago, on the premise that ‘the world needs science and science needs women’ over 2000 women from across the globe have been recognised  and received funding to further their research. 

Despite an uphill battle for female STEM researchers across the globe, this year’s awards saw a record number of applications, a feat which proves that female scientists are not going away anytime soon. Out of 400 applications, 40 were longlisted and 8 academics made it to the final nomination list, a selection that L’Oreal’s Scientific Director, Steve Shiel called “ impossibly difficult”. The 8  nominated candidates included female mathematicians, chemists, paleo-biologists, nuclear physicists and the list goes on. In the end, five fellowships were awarded. 

There were two things about the awards that really stood out as newsworthy. Firstly, it was the importance of the research the nominees presented, and the simultaneous significance of presenting such work to audiences who would have otherwise never engaged with it. Secondly, it was the urgent need for a reexamination of what the research community and its supporters, consider valid research costs.

FWIS-home-slider-june-2016-001

All of these women were impressive in their own right, taking on major issues that range from curing diseases, to perfecting wastewater treatments, or challenging accepted conceptions about how star clusters form. Shiel stated

“It’s hard to compare the work of paleobiologists to a medicinal scientist’s work but one thing was evident about all of the winners, and it was that they each had passion. They each had a palpable passion you could feel for what they did, but also this sense of curiosity and discovery.”

The importance of communication: 

Like any award ceremony, there was no shortage of deserving candidates, many of whom we intend to feature in the upcoming months, but one of the projects that stood out for us was Reham Bedawy, a short-listed PhD nominee who was working to support the early detection of Parkinson’s via a mobile phone app. If helping to diagnose life-threatening illness wasn’t enough, she was also able to clearly explain the operationalisation of her work and a seemingly complex disease to two social-science researchers (i.e. us!) who wouldn’t know the right end of a beaker. Her work is inarguably significant, regardless of whether or not a non-expert audience could understand it, but as a result of her interesting and translatable presentation, at least two new researchers who may have otherwise been completely unaware of Parkinson’s research, are now engaged and eager to learn more (follow Reham on Twitter here).

As a media researcher, I was surprised to find how much in common I had with a mathematician. As a large portion of my work focuses on the role of social media in revolutionary movements, I could draw parallels with some of the techno-focused aspects of her methodology. She made me consider how I may better leverage mobile apps for my own work, and above all she inspired me. Her presentation, like so many of the researchers’ presentations, exemplified the significance of not only individual female academics, but the power and influence of the collective. A room full of intelligent, motivated and successful women is something that is seldom seen and far less celebrated. As an aspiring academic, the presence and recognition of these accomplished women helped reignite my own confidence, and motivation to carry on with my work.

It made me think about what the world might look like if these women were splashed across our news headlines, Twitter feeds, or history books?

We need to redefine “direct research” costs:

Aside from inspiration, the awards led to a realization: supporting female academic achievement requires a redefinition of “direct research costs”. What we found particularly noteworthy about the awards was the fact that the winners were allowed to dictate the way in which there awards would be spent, sometimes in ways which are seemingly unconventional in the research community. Many of the past laureates spoke about the importance of using the awards to help facilitate childcare and family relocation to areas or institutions, which were crucial to the development of their work. Moreover, several nominees were pregnant, or brought their young children with them to the awards.

While all funding aimed at supporting equality in research is important, the seemingly non-direct costs of research careers are sometimes the most expensive and difficult to articulate. As such, the importance of funding opportunities which give female academics the power to control the use of their grants presents an equalizing potential that traditional research grants do not. The testimonies of an overwhelming number of past laureates attested to this.

Often, when we speak about female academic achievement the topic of motherhood is ignored. As the notion of motherhood so often consumes, and even stifles the narrative of women in the workplace, I often find myself intentionally discussing the achievements of female academics, or female professionals as an entirely separate entity from their roles as mothers or caretakers.  But these awards brought to the fore the importance of recognizing and funding female academics not only via direct research grants, but also by way of flexible and family-centric support. A recent article in the New York Times upheld this, finding that even seemingly gender-neutral family-friendly policies in many academic institutions tend to favor male academics.

These testimonies leave many open-ended questions, but highlight the need for a continued conversation on the meaning of gender equality and the importance of building female equity in the research space.

What is clear is that female academics experience a different professional reality than their male-counterparts. The awards, and each of the nominated women exemplified the importance of advocacy, not only in the context of each of our individual research work, but also in terms of our collective experiences.  

Gender Equality in Northern Ireland – in urgent need of a ‘Fresh Start’

by Michelle Rouse

Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement contains many references to equality and human rights, and one specific reference to the “full and equal participation of women in public life”. Women were also involved at important points in the negotiating process, leading many to believe that the Agreement could significantly transform women’s roles in Northern Ireland. Michelle Rouse argues, however, that in the 18 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, parties to the process have failed to capitalise on that potential and in its absence a particularly negative legal and political discourse on gender now dominates Northern Ireland.

There is nothing new under the sun, or so the idiom goes at least, and the gender dynamics which lurk beneath the surface of the Northern Irish peace process would certainly appear to support this assessment. It is an enduring truth that women remain the most historically marginalised and excluded group across all conflicts and all jurisdictions. It is equally true that women and men will experience conflict in different ways and will have very different needs in the post-conflict period. Feminist analysis of conflict suggests that applying a gender lens to how specific issues of human rights, security and political participation are framed in peace agreements may provide an effective litmus test for how women’s specific needs will be addressed in the post-conflict system. In other words, we need to give specific attention to the issue of gender if we are to fully understand the ways in which women are served or underserved by the Good Friday Agreement and the current system in Northern Ireland.  This piece shines a spotlight on a significant failing of Northern Ireland’s world renowned peace process – namely, that it has systematically failed to address the post-conflict needs of women.

‘Northern Ireland’s world renowned peace process…has systematically failed to address the post-conflict needs of women.’

StormontGeneral

Stormont, Belfast – the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

How are Human Rights and Gender Equality spelled out in the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement affirms “the right of equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity’.  This “duty” is located within the Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity Section of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). This was enacted in legislation by Section 75 of the subsequent 1998 Northern Ireland Act.  The section 75 duty was exalted by many as ‘unique and world leading’, earning the impressive moniker of the ‘single most extensive positive duty imposed in the UK’.

The statutory equality duty has not delivered in respect of gendered inequality: reasons why

The available evidence however, overwhelmingly indicates that the statutory equality duty has not reduced gendered inequality. Conversely, problems with implementation may have actually compounded discrimination and inequality for the most marginalised women.

Critiques of the duty cite ‘institutional resistance’ as a key impediment. Theories range from the benign, attributing this to an inherently conservative civil service resistant to innovation; to the more malign, suggestive of tolerance for the promotion of equality further down the food chain but resistant to implementation at the top.

‘Available evidence…overwhelmingly indicates that the statutory equality duty has not delivered in respect of gendered inequality.’

Budgets:

Certainly when it comes to the ‘big’ decisions, there is ample evidence of a systematic failure to subject policy to full impact assessment. For instance, the Investment strategy for Northern Ireland and the Budget have not once, in 18 years, been subject to a proper Equality Impact Assessment process. Instead, a bespoke ‘high level impact assessment’ has been crafted to cover this. The Equality Commission has emphatically rejected the use of high level impact assessment, but without enforcement powers it can do little about it. What is beyond dispute is the stark fact that no significant budget decisions have been re-profiled or adjusted as a result of identified gender impacts.

Intersectionality:

Section 75 has also been critiqued on the basis of a failure to be responsive to intersectionality of discrimination in the lives of women in general, and in particular, its failure to acknowledge the distinct interplay of gender, religious belief and political opinion which exists in NI.

Evidence of a worsening situation in terms of the intersectionality of women’s inequality can be determined from the statistics of housing need in North Belfast. The women who are most impacted by social housing inequalities are statistically more likely to be lone parents, have less disposable income and less control over family income. They constitute the ‘low paid and unofficial labour market’.

Catholics represented 73% of those on waiting lists, but only 35.7% of those awarded accommodation, whereas Protestant applicants constituted 26.2% of the waiting lists but represented 64% of those offered accommodation. The stark nature of these statistics has been significant enough to draw the attention of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

There have been suggestions that NGOs and Women’s Groups too, may be consciously avoiding combining religious and political inequalities in reports and lobbying as a tactical approach to their own survival.  If groups are seen to be divisive, overtly political or departing from the narrative of ‘balance, their funding and broad based appeal could be put in jeopardy.

‘Section 75 has failed to be responsive to intersectionality of discrimination in the lives of women in general, and in particular, to acknowledge the distinct interplay of gender, religious belief and political opinion which exists in Northern Ireland.’

Ireland-Capitals

For those who may not be familiar with it, this map shows Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Security

Issues of security, while central to any peace agreement, are not typically dealt with in a way that takes account of the particular post-conflict threats to women’s security. The application of a gender lens to issues of women’s security in post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland is very revealing.

Physical Security

Arguably, one of the most pressing risks to women’s physical security and integrity is intimate partner violence (IPV). Mc Williams and Ni Aoláin note that IPV can actually increase in the post-conflict setting and may take on particular features as a result of access to legal and illegal weaponry. This means that policy responses to intimate partner violence in post-conflict institutional arrangements must be robust and created for the specific context which they will address.

The ‘Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse Regional Strategy‘, however, failed at the most basic level to acknowledge the transitional context it was created for, and the particularities of the problem it ostensibly seeks to address. It further failed to identify and situate government-related responses within a human rights framework of state obligations. The effect of which, according to McWilliams and Ni Aoláin was to make individuals ‘pleaders for protection’ rather than bearers of rights and status.

The Strategy’s approach to domestic violence as ‘irrespective of gender’ has led to the capture of other forms of abuse which can occur in the domestic setting.  This composite approach has obscured the unequal power dynamics in intimate partner relationships, which form the kernel of the problem.

‘The “Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse Regional Strategy”…failed at the most basic level to acknowledge the transitional context it was created for…’

Legal Security

Feminist analysis also recommends that the reform of substantive law, i.e. the law defining rights and duties, must also involve the reform of law enforcement. In conflicts which have featured an ethnic divide, scholars recommend that agreements must examine compositional issues including gender requirements.

The Good Friday Agreement established an Independent Commission on Policing. Compositional data illustrated that 8% of the RUC (the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland’s police force from 1922 to 2001) identified as Catholic and 13% as female. Female officers were over represented in the part-time reserve and underrepresented at senior levels. The Equal Opportunities Commission did advocate that a gender quota should be included, but this advice was disregarded. The Police Act 2000 which followed made provision for 50/50 Catholic/Protestant recruitment quotas, but committed only to a ‘gender action plan’.

The distinction in the two approaches taken to create compositional change could hardly be starker. The religious element was considered so politically important that it necessitated the immediate introduction of quotas, in order to make massive change occur rapidly. The issue of gender representation however was not similarly regarded, in spite of the UK’s obligations under CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women)]. The Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also noted its concern about the failure to introduce ‘temporary special measures to address the under representation of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors as well as in political life.’

Ulster PM Blair/Ahern sign
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998. www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/good_friday_agreement

Economic Security

The Montreal principles on women’s rights hold that economic, social and cultural rights have a particular significance for women and further acknowledge that women’s pre-disposition to socio-economic deprivation is worsened in conflict and post- conflict settings. As such, women clearly have the most to gain from the articulation of socio-economic rights within any Bill of Rights.

The creation of legally enforceable economic and social rights would go right to the core of pervasive structural inequalities, which subordinate women as ‘lesser’. Justiciable rights, i.e. rights which are subject to trail in a court of law, have the potential to be truly redistributive. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission recommended the inclusion of legally enforceable socio-economic rights in a Bill of Rights, a position supported by over 90% of those polled by Millward Brown Ulster. The Northern Ireland Office however determined that the conferral of socio- economic rights in Northern Ireland would give rise to unjustified inequality across the UK. The current British Government’s commitment to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act bodes ill for rights enhancement, and indeed it  suggests that regression on existing civil and political rights is more likely.

Political Participation

In contrast to its myriad of provisions and technical devices aimed at ensuring representation of the different political traditions, the agreement contains no provisions which would give effect to women’s ‘full and equal participation’.

As a consequence, women have remained largely marginalised from participation in public life and in particular remain excluded from positions of power and influence in Northern Ireland.

Notwithstanding recent Assembly election results which saw the number of women elected rise from 19.4% to 28%, an increase of almost 50%, the Northern Ireland Assembly lags well behind other devolved legislatures which polled on the same day. Women comprise 48% of the incoming Welsh Assembly and 35% of the incoming Scottish Parliament. The absence of legal quotas from the framework agreement has been a defining structural inhibitor which has resulted in a ‘catch 22’ situation; unless more women are elected to the Assembly, it is unlikely to generate a more inclusive political agenda.

‘Women have remained largely marginalised from participation in public life and in particular remain excluded from positions of power and influence in Northern Ireland.’


Acknowledging then the paucity of female representation in the political institutions and public life here in general, the concept of a Civic Forum provided an unparalleled opportunity to ensure that women could impact on the decision making process. It was envisaged that representatives from a wide range of sectors, including the women’s sector, would sit alongside the NI Assembly, working as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural matters.

The Civic Forum was suspended in 2002 with the devolved institutions. Unlike the other institutions provided for by the GFA, the Civic Forum was never re-activated. The recent ‘Fresh Start” Agreement makes provision for a ‘compact civic panel’ of 6 members. Appointed directly by the First and deputy First Ministers they will be tasked ‘to consider specific issues relevant to the Programme for Government’. This circumscribed ‘intermediary’ model is far removed from the model of participative governance envisaged by the GFA. Compelling evidence of exclusion of women from the decision-making process within the civil service is illustrated by the profile of the North’s most senior civil servants – the Permanent Secretaries (who head Stormont’s departments) are exclusively male.

‘Women’s demand for equal status has been largely sidelined by politicians and civil servants, who continue to prioritise central power issues.’

While power sharing and consociational arrangements undoubtedly provide stability in transitions from violent conflict, the Northern Ireland experience suggests they may also constrain deeper aspects of political transformation. Women’s demand for equal status has been largely sidelined by politicians and civil servants, who continue to prioritise central power issues. Since the Good Friday Agreement there have been a succession of further negotiations and agreements: Weston Park in 2001, St Andrews in 2006, Hillsborough Castle in 2010, Stormont House in 2015, and a Fresh Start in 2016.  Each of these Agreements has been precipitated by a political crisis arising from outstanding commitments and/or allegations of default by one side or another. Issues have included the impasse over the transfer of policing and justice powers, allegations of armed group activity and problems arising within the complex power-sharing architecture. Ongoing default however in respect of key equality and human rights provisions has not, of itself, been regarded as sufficiently important to precipitate a crisis within the Stormont body politic.

On the contrary, in each successive negotiation since 1998 there has been a steadily declining focus on equality and human rights provisions.  At each successive stage of the implementation process, the process itself has become more exclusive and the agenda too has narrowed considerably, largely at the expense of those measures with inherent transformative potential. Human rights elements have been consistently eroded and power issues aggrandised.

‘…Eighteen years on from 1998, the promise of ‘full and equal participation of women’ may be even more elusive now than it was then.’

The Stormont House Agreement last January –  collapsed all of the outstanding Good Friday Agreement commitments in respect of Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity into one catch –all, generic paragraph. Unsurprisingly, this attrition has coincided with the absence of a specific voice for women at most of the negotiations which have followed the Good Friday Agreement.  The continued absence of this specific voice suggests that eighteen years on from 1998, the promise of ‘full and equal participation of women’ may be even more elusive now than it was then.’

For more on women’s participation in peace processes, and consociational and power-sharing peace agreements, read Tajma Kapic’s piece on women’s political participation in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Media Gender Gap…and what to do about it.

by Grace McDermottAAEAAQAAAAAAAAWSAAAAJDg3ZjU3ZTU4LTlkMzEtNDJmYi04NDI5LWViMGQ0NzgzYmEzNg

“ The news is still, by and large, made by men for men. Research from the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), based on 114 countries and released today, shows that only 24 per cent of persons seen, heard or read about in the media are women. In online news reports the figure is almost the same, at 26 per cent. The findings amount to “a severe disparity between the representation of women and men in news media.”

– The Independent, November 23,2015*

When it comes to discussing issues of inequality people get uncomfortable. The good news is, I am not here to talk about whether or not inequality exists, the numbers show that. Instead, I want to talk about what we can do to fix it.

I was a participating researcher on the Irish team of this year’s Global Media Monitoring Report, and can honestly say the experience changed my understanding of the news. Though I had studied representation and news cycles in the past, as I poured over this particular data I was surprised.  Digging through headline after headline, I was astounded to find virtually no stories about, or even authored by, women.  The few stories I did find were for the most part, sitting in the gossip column. Certainly there were women who had stories to tell, and moreover, other women who wanted to tell those stories. But, where were were they?

The Media Gender Gap is a pervasive and widespread issue impacting female media professionals, the industry, and the wider public alike. Though the seldom-discussed inequality of female representation in the media, and by the media, is a large systemic issue there are simple steps we can all take to work towards a fairer industry, and more equal-society. Starting now.

By the end of this piece you will:

  1. Have a better understanding of the Media Gender Gap and your role within it.
  2. A simple, practical, and free step you can take everyday to help end media inequality.

 

The Findings:

The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) is a major international research initiative that has been running since the late 1990’s. The project focuses on tracking and analysing the representation of women in the media and is widely cited by the likes of the United Nations, among others. This year’s report unfortunately, uncovered a similar pattern to years past. The results prove gender equality in news stories or in media professions remains a serious and largely unchanging issue.

Although women make up about 50% of the general worldwide population, only 24% of the persons heard, read about or seen in news media are women. – GMMP

Among other staggering statistics the GMMP’s overriding findings illustrated that women are largely invisible in not only our news, but our newsrooms. 

Only 37% of news media stories are reported on by women, globally.- GMMP

Even in the would-be “progressive” nations of  Ireland/ Scotland/ England/Wales (the segment of the report I worked on), representation of women in the newsroom was disproportionately low. As only 32% of all news stories in the UK, Ireland-sample were written, or spoken by women.

How does the gap happen? 

The question of “how” inequality happens is quite possibly the most complex and simultaneously important one. Unfortunately, the answer is multifaceted, non-definite, and constantly debated.

What we do know is that the media gender gap emerges is a range of different, but interdependent ways. There are too many dimensions of the issue for me to cover in the space of this article. Instead, I will touch three main ways inequality is entrenched in our media. The first type I will call “financial disparity” and the second, “objectification”. The third is arguably the most overlooked and the one the GMMP hones in on, “invisibility.”

The first factor, “financial disparity” is tied to the ways we try and discuss inequality within the realm of “industry” or “capitalism” . When we talk about inequality: race, gender, religion etc. in these contexts, we generally connect it to economic terms. How many cents does a woman make to a man’s dollar? How are her earnings influenced by childbirth? Even less obvious ones like: Why are there less females engineers?

These questions have explicit connections to monetary wealth. This is because we understand earnings and dollar signs to be an illustration of an individual’s relative worth, and overall quality of life. For this reason we can look at money and say: “If two people are equally qualified, and performing the same role, in the same environment, they should earn the same amount. If not, something is unequal”.  Of course you could debate the reasons for this inequality, however, you could not debate the fact that one person earns more than the other. You could measure this, or set it up like a math equation and it would still make sense.

Activists, Researchers, and the general public love to talk about inequality in these terms because they are clear cut, concise, and hard to argue with. This is the dimension of “inequality” most of us have a baseline understanding of. This is not because it is necessarily the most important or only type of inequality, but because it’s the easiest to understand.

There is also a another type of inequality most of us understand. This is objectification. In recent years the objectification of women in the media has come to light, though it has certainly not gone away. When it comes to sexualising, or objectifying women, explaining the issue is relatively simple. Similar to “financial disparity”, “objectification” is easy to identify because it is something you can see and touch.

For example, we can hold a picture and say: “I see that woman, I see the environment she is positioned in, I see what she is wearing, I see the words surrounding her, etc.”

If there is a debate over “objectification” it would usually centre on the meaning  or impact of an image, rather than the the existence of the image itself. The “artifact” (picture, text, image) that contains the inequality serves as proof, or at least, a tangible point for debate. In this way, objectification is a clear-cut, and relatively obvious form of inequality that for the most part we all understand.

So, why does invisibility matter?  More importantly, what can you do about it today?

Lastly, there is invisibility. This is the dimension of inequality that the GMMP seemingly centred on. I would argue very few of us think about, understand, or consider, inequality in these terms because you guessed it, it is invisible.

Despite the lack of conversation surrounding the invisibility of women in the media, its effects are equally serious to other forms of discrimination.  The impact of invisibility is bigger than the lack of women in professional media roles, it literally alters the news itself. Embedded in nearly every piece of news you consume (according to the statistics) is a predisposition to feature, discuss, and refer to exclusively, men.

Only 28% of Irish news “sources” (meaning the people quoted, interviewed or paraphrased) were women.The women who make up this 28% were as a majority in “homemaker” or “celebrity” roles, with an extreme disparity in contexts that called for “experts”. Females represented only 10% of the science technology/engineers mentioned overall; 15% of the teachers, academics, or educational professionals; and a mere 3% of athletes, or sports personnel included. – Regional  statistics: UK, Ireland GMMP

So what is wrong with what the media is not showing us?

Before you ask: “what’s wrong with talking to men? Hear me out. Talking about or with men is not the problem; never speaking with, or about women, is.

Unsurprisingly,  the report found that female journalists, were more likely to include female subjects within their writing. Proving that diversity in staff, feeds diversity in story.

  • Women reporters were nearly twice as likely as men to write stories which had a central female focus and women were twice as likely to write stories which challenged gender stereotypes than men. – Regional statistics: UK, Ireland GMMP

 

A media researcher, John Thompson’s work better explains the social impact of invisibility in the media.  Thompson claimed that the media was “the domain of the visible” in modern societies. He argued that it worked as not only the primary forum for publicising social values, but also a formative element of these values themselves.

Basically, according to Thompson, when things appear in the media, particularly in the news, they signal to the public: “Hey! this thing is worthy of your time and consideration. This thing matters.” When this message is disseminated, the ‘thing’ that was pushed out in the media,becomes immediately more important to the public.

Invisibility works covertly to the contrary. If things aren’t publicised in the media there is little chance we will find out about them, which limits our ability to care. This doesn’t mean they fail to exist, but rather, that we don’t know they exist. Which if you ask me, is pretty much the same thing.

This is kind of like the: “if a tree falls in the forest” scenario. If a tree falls, a person exists, an issue exists, but our news station doesn’t tell us, our ability to consider it vanishes.

Enough about what’s wrong, what can I do about it?

According to Thompson, and many other media studies, this process of invisibility is a two way thing. What the media tells us impacts how we think, but what we tell the media, impacts what they tell us. So, this is where you come in. And the best part is, you don’t even need to get up from the couch, or off of your smart phone.

When we seek out, spend time, and tweet about certain topics, the news listens. News networks operate off  of a bottom line (no matter what they say!) and that bottom line is driven by you. Digital is the space where news consumer’s actions are the most quantifiable. Thus, what audiences read and share online has become a key element of how news networks determine what stories make the news.

The GMMP not only found that women were widely absent from mainstream news, but also, digital news and stories circulated through social media alike.

The report found that only 26% of online news reports included women. – GMMP

News producers know what you read, what you search, how long you spend reading, and even where your mouse hovers. In the constant bombardment of puppy/baby/fail videos it is hard to strike a balance between what you want to watch, and what you should  watch. But this is what makes for a responsible news consumer.

Turns out, all that time we spend thinking of Kim Kardashian’s new outfit takes away from our consideration of other news items. But don’t worry, I am not saying you should never read the gossip column.

What I am saying is that: Your mouse, and your smart phone are the equivalent to your media ballot.

This doesn’t mean you have to delete Perez Hilton from your bookmarks. Instead, I am suggesting that you occasionally make a conscious effort to seek out a story about, or authored by, a woman. If you want to go one step further take that news story and talk about it. Do this once a week, once a day, and voila! You have done something useful, and can now call your internet procrastination meaningful.

Have you reinvented the wheel? No.

Abolished global oppression? No.

Sent a message to your news providers that you want to hear from and about women. Yes.

A small step in the right direction, all from the comfort of your smart phone. What’s not to like about that?