Less ‘protect your daughters’, more ‘educate your sons’ to change women’s safety in wake of Sarah Everard

The theme for International Women’s Month this year is choose to challenge, and the International Women’s Day website states: “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. “Likewise, we can all choose to challenge ALL inequalities and collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”

Monday, 15th March 2021, 1:56 pm
Flowers and messages on Devonshire Green in Sheffield after A ˜Reclaim Sheffield Streets™ vigil to the tragic disappearance of Sarah Everard was cancelled on Saturday. Picture: Chris Etchells

Yes, we can all choose to challenge injustices, inequality, and unfair treatment of women, and it doesn’t just have to be this month. Women and girls make up practically half of the world’s population, yet globally women are still very much treated unfavourably.

We are all created equally, yet historically women have not been treated so and are still not afforded the equality deserved. Yes, we have seen some progress here in the UK. For example, the number of women on FTSE 350 boards have increased by 50% in the past five years to 34.3%.

However, progress still remains slow. Women make up 51% of the UK population, yet women’s voices are still underrepresented in senior positions in politics, business, law, STEM, financial services, and more. In 300 years, we have still only had two female prime ministers.

Flowers and messages on Devonshire Green in Sheffield after a "Reclaim Sheffield Streets" vigil to the tragic disappearance of Sarah Everard was cancelled on Saturday. Picture: Chris Etchells

Gender pay gap reporting has been put back to October because of the pandemic so it is not yet known whether there has been an improvement. However, the Women and Equalities Select Committee reported that there had been an unequal economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women. They made a number of recommendations to be implemented urgently.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated women were a third more likely to be employed in sectors that were ‘shut down’ over the first national lockdown, and thus particularly at risk of job loss. Statistics from HMRC show women were more likely to be furloughed.

Women, particularly black, Asian, and ethnic minority women, were disproportionately employed in less secure, low quality work arrangements, and as such experienced a greater fall in earnings and hours.

Research looking at women at work, just published by The Female Lead (an educational charity that provides a platform for female empowerment) and psychologist Dr Terry Apter identified that there is an entitlement gap between men and women. Their study found that women have an unentitled mindset as a result of being conditioned to feel less entitled than men in all areas of their lives. To expect less, not to take up too much space, not to demand more.

This creates an entitlement gap between women and men and leads to inequality in pay, domestic responsibility, childcare, parental care, and unpaid work, which mainly falls on women’s shoulders. The system can intentionally or inadvertently exploit and benefit from this entitlement gap, which widens when we factor in women from marginalised backgrounds and intersectionality.

Not only are women at a greater disadvantage socio-economically, the tragic murder of Sarah Everard has highlighted the extent in which women are unsafe. It was heart wrenching when Jess Phillips MP read out the names of 118 women killed by men in the past year, with calls for Boris Johnson to tackle male violence towards women and misogyny, and make the UK safe for women.

Women came out in force online about how they have to change their behaviour to feel safe. Untold women have shared how they hold their keys at the ready when walking at night. Along with other measures they feel need to be put in place to protect their safety. It should not have to be like this.

A social post I saw doing the rounds, so simple yet so profound, had the words ‘protect your daughters’ replaced with the words ‘educate your sons.’ Whilst we are doing a lot to educate young girls on standing up for themselves, and to develop an interest in what has traditionally been male dominated industries, how are we educating our sons? What are the behaviours little boys are seeing being modelled? It starts at home.

Women cannot bring about change alone. We need male allies. As men are the dominant group in positions of power in society, we need more men to choose to challenge too.

By choosing to challenge, you can do your part to bring about or influence change. It could be simply pulling up a colleague when they make a inappropriate comment. Or it could be what you are doing to educate your young sons. Or it could even be questioning selection processes that seem biased. However you choose to challenge, we can all play our part, because if no one chooses to challenge, nothing will ever change.