Balance for Better: National Womens Day 2019

#BalanceforBetter – this years slogan for International Women’s Day.

Gender balance is essential for fair and thriving economies, businesses, communities. People need to recognise that achieving balance is not just a “Women’s issue”, it’s an issue for everyone. As the chinese say, 妇女能顶半边天 (fù nǚ néng dǐng bàn biān tiān: women hold up half the sky.)

Hold onto that half here – its a numbers game.

Suffolk is the home of women’s suffrage – yet 150 years after Millicent Fawcett started her first suffrage petition, a century after her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became Aldeburgh’s first Mayor, there are just 22 women councillors elected to Suffolk County Council. Women make up only 29% of Suffolk’s councillors (significantly below the already appalling 33% UK average). At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk. Yet we women make up over half the population! And decisions affect us disproportionately.

Suffolk may have been the birthplace of women’s suffrage, of women’s higher education, of women’s independence – but modern Suffolk has a high gender pay gap, high levels of violence against women, and poor outcomes for girls.

A 2016 report by Plan International on the quality of life of girls across the UK – looking at child poverty, life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, GCSE results and NEET – highlighted Suffolk’s hidden need. Both Ipswich and Waveney were well in the lowest quartile for the UK, with Ipswich ranked 289th out of all 346 English & Welsh district councils. Yet both officers and councillors at Suffolk County Council were unaware of Suffolk’s poor performance. There is a problem with the way that data is gathered and analysed: Suffolk’s “gender data gap”.

The data gap is surprisingly prevalent . When asking the police about local statistics on domestic violence incidents, I was told they did not record the sex of the offender. When we worry about the impact of school transport changes, we don’t have the gender figures for parental impact. We do not know how many of the carers in the community may also be 50’s women with a vanishing pension age, how many non-driving bus users are women, how many lone parent families are headed by women.

As Caroline Criado Perez has recently discovered, the default of person, is man.

Applied to the “gender data gap” this default makes it harder to understand the impact that local and national policies – decided so substantially by men – have on the women and girls of Suffolk. It makes it hard to prove that both cuts and support are administered most appropriately. It makes it much less easy to improve outcomes for either.

Today let’s embrace #BalanceforBetter, and pledge to make a change, and challenge Suffolk’s “gender data gap! We women have nothing to lose but our statistical invisibility!

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