Women’s Role in Society x Lucy Jameson
The past two years have not been kind to the women of the world. First, we had to deal with a global pandemic that disproportionately affected women. In the US, women lost 12.2 million jobs, reversing an entire decade of employment gains.
Women bore the brunt of childcare, with The Atlantic calling the coronavirus pandemic “a disaster for feminism”.
Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation said that a predicted drop in women’s poverty levels would instead become a 9% increase between 2019 and 2021, with 50 million more women living in poverty globally.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a leaked document signalling that the US supreme court is poised to strike down the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade. The global impact of overturning Roe v Wade would be enormous.
It is already illegal for women to terminate their pregnancies in any circumstance in 24 countries, with a further 37 restricting access in any case, except when the mother’s life is in danger.
In Europe, Poland banned abortion in 2021, while Slovenia reduced access. According to data from the World Health Organization, unsafe abortions kill more than 47,000 people every year, with five million hospitalised for complications such as bleeding or infection.
WHO data also shows that banning abortions has little or no effect on abortion rates throughout the world; it merely makes them far less safe.
In 2021, Turkey withdrew from the landmark Istanbul Convention, a groundbreaking and comprehensive framework for combating gender-based violence and ensuring the rights of survivors in Europe. The decision has also emboldened anti-rights movements across several other countries in the region.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has imposed gross restrictions on the rights of women and girls. Women have been told they cannot return to their workplace or travel in public unless accompanied by a male guardian. Girls over the age of 12 are now barred from education. Most recently, women have been told they must cover their faces in public.
Closer to home, our parliament has rightly been under fire for a series of misogynistic incidents. These range from a male MP watching pornography in parliament to another claiming that a female MP crossed and uncrossed her legs to distract the prime minister, comparing her to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
Dozens of lawmakers have been referred to a watchdog over sexual misconduct allegations. That comes on top of the aftermath of shocking events following Sarah Everard’s murder. And the waves of #metoo revelations.
Don’t get me started on the gender pay gap, the pension or property gaps or the disgraceful way in which women’s health is treated in the UK, from miscarriages to menopause.
I have to say I have been struggling to process all this heartbreaking news. Amid this blur of horrific headlines, it’s tough to know what to do. After decades where I felt women were making steady progress, it’s hard not to see this as a devastating assault on women’s role in society. It’s forced me to reflect.
Personally, I didn’t come from a particularly progressive background, but I was exceptionally lucky not to face any real barriers either. My family was full of over-achieving ancestors, all of whom were men. In fact, my mother once said to me: "What a shame you got the brains, not your brother."
Despite that, my parents were always supportive of my education. I got a scholarship to an all-girls boarding school and then went to Oxford. I left naively assuming that women could do anything they wanted. I thought the battles had been won and my mother’s attitudes were just the hallmark of an older generation.
After all, this was the era of the UK’s first female prime minister and a queen. I grew up assuming that the arc of history was bending inexorably in women’s favour.
It wasn’t until I arrived in the world of work that I confronted the reality that everyone running companies still seemed to be male. It was a rude awakening.
But I was lucky that at BMP and DDB I had many benign male bosses. Others I know across the industry were not so fortunate.
Thankfully, when I look around today, there is a more diverse environment. Yes, there is still sexism in the industry. Yes, there are only eight women leading at FTSE 100 companies. Yes, we have very far to go when it comes to systemic racism. But there is progress.
I run a majority female-founded business and work with many other wonderful female-founded businesses, like Craft Media. Many of our clients – like ITV – have female CEOs. In the words of one of our Guardian ads, "Change is possible". As women, we are blessed to have been born in this time and this place.
But, if change is possible, things can also backtrack. We cannot let the progress we have made slip backwards. So, we have to support each other. We have to speak out. We have to campaign. We have to change working policies.
We signed up to support fair NDAs with the "Make NDAs fair" campaign (endorsed by TimeTo, Nabs, Outvertising, Bloom, the Conscious Advertising Network, Creative Equals and WACL) to raise awareness of the systematic misuse of NDAs in relation to sexual harassment cases.
But, most of all, we have to be vigilant about the work we put out in the world. Now more than ever, our brains, our voices, our stories, our control and our ambition matters.
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