Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities speaks at the 2015 UN Women UK and Government Equalities Office Conference ‘Inspiring and shaping the future – progress towards gender equality’
Good afternoon and thank you to Jan [Jan Grasty OBE, President of UN Women UK National Committee] for that very kind introduction, it’s a real pleasure to be here today – and always nice to get out of London!
Today marks the final conference as part of our Women’s Engagement Programme. We invited women from across the UK to tell us what progress has been made towards gender equality, and what still needs to be done.
It’s been a great few months, and it’s a project I’m very proud to have been part of.
So I’d like to start by thanking everyone who’s been involved in making these roadshows such a success – my fellow Ministers, the dedicated team of government officials in the Government Equalities office, the organisations that have hosted events and helped make them happen - and of course everyone who’s come along and taken part.
We’ve discussed violence against women and girls in Northern Ireland, women and the media in Birmingham, access to health services with women in Bristol. In other words, women all over the country have been sharing their views on what’s important to them and how the government can help them succeed.
Of course, this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In 1995, Member States of the United Nations committed to take action to promote gender equality, recognising as they did this that sustained peace and further global development couldn’t happen without equality between men and women.
Their ambitious declaration identified 12 critical areas of concern, from poverty and violence against women to access to health services to the division of power between women and men, and it’s guided the work of member states around the world.
But the Beijing Declaration is about improving the lives of girls, too.
So I’m delighted that today’s event isn’t just about gender equality and how to achieve it for the current generation, but also about how we can inspire young women to take their future in their hands and, alongside their male counterparts, become the leaders of tomorrow.
Progress towards gender equality in the UK
Of course, we’ve made huge progress since 1995. And we certainly have a great deal to be proud of here in the UK:
- There are more women in employment than ever before
- More women-led businesses than ever before
- The gender pay gap is the lowest on record and women under 40 working full-time actually now earn more than men
Our partnership with business to get more women in top management positions is also producing results. Since 2011, we have leapt from 12.5% to nearly 23% female representation on FTSE100 boards, more than ever before.
From April to September last year, 44% of new public appointments were women.
And we are removing barriers to career progression by extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, and introducing a new, fairer system of shared parental leave from April 2015.
Crucially, led by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, we have also introduced new laws to tackle violence against women and girls and continue to support women’s refuges across the country.
Internationally, I am extremely proud to say that under the direction of the International Development Secretary Justine Greening, the UK is a trailblazer in the fight against violence against women and girls, as well as preventing sexual violence in conflict.
We are helping over 5 million girls attend school around the world. Because this is a fundamental right for all young people.
And we are committed to putting gender equality at the heart of the Post-2015 Development Framework.
In fact, I recently had the pleasure of meeting the Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, when I visited the US in November.
Our discussions, on what more we could do to advance equality and women’s empowerment, underlined our joint commitment to champion this agenda around the world.
Avoiding complacency and going even further
Because we absolutely cannot afford to be complacent.
The momentum cannot stop or even slow.
Gender inequality affects all aspects of our lives, whether we’re male or female. Our homes, our schools and the workplace, they’re all affected by evils of inequality.
So I believe we really do have a mission to take action at every possible level if we’re to succeed in building a truly equal society.
Young girls will only become the political and business leaders of tomorrow if they have the widest possible range of opportunities and the chance to study the subjects they’re good at and enjoy.
I recently attended a Girl Guiding event at the House of Lords. It was great to hear from, and speak to, so many bright and motivated young girls with such ambitious dreams for the future.
And when I go to schools, I am always impressed by the confidence of the young people I meet. Or by young women like Georgina, who I met at a recent event, who went against stereotypes to build a successful career in the construction industry.
That’s why it’s intolerable to me to think that any young person might find that their gender holds them back from choosing the subjects they love, taking the degree they’re passionate about, or embarking on – and succeeding at - the career of their dreams.
That is why the government has produced statutory guidance to help ensure schools challenge stereotyping in the careers advice provided to students; we are encouraging girls and young women take up careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, including through the national ‘Your Life’ campaign.
Our National Careers Service encourages girls and young women to challenge stereotypes and choose from the broadest possible career options.
We are setting up a new employer-led careers and enterprise company to support stronger links between employers, schools and colleges, to ensure that young people get the inspiration and guidance they need to leave school or college ready to succeed in working life.
The reports in the press, this weekend, about the significant gender divide in the UK’s performance in science at 15, compared to our international competitors, underlines why we’re right to have made this area a priority. And we’ve already made some real strides, with as many girls as boys achieving grade C and above in science GCSEs and the number of girls taking physics A-level up by almost 1,000 in the last 4 years.
Your Daughter’s Future
And finally, it’s why I’m delighted to announce today the launch of a new online guide, called Your Daughter’s Future, which pulls together a range of useful sites, helping parents to support their daughters through school subject, qualification, and career choices.
We know that some parents feel limited in the advice they can give by their own experiences.
Put simply, the world of work is changing so rapidly that many of today’s jobs, or jobs we’ll need in the future, simply didn’t exist when people of my generation were younger.
The Women’s Business Council’s recent report highlights that by GCSE level gendered career ambitions are clearly evident.
And, even more worryingly, stereotypes about ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ are a strong influence even at primary schools. That means 5 and 6 year olds are already starting to close off doors to their future based purely on their gender.
Even now, female graduates often choose subjects that lead into the lowest paid sectors. In fact, 22% of the gender pay gap can be explained by the industries and occupations women work in.
That’s why Your Daughter’s Future gives practical suggestions on supporting children to make the right choices about their future.
It’s not about telling parents – or their daughters - what to do. It’s about offering parents information to help them help their daughters make the choices that best suit them, from the widest possible range of opportunities.
Conclusion – importance of people of every gender working together
But just as the Government will not achieve gender equality working alone, so too must men and boys be more actively involved and prepared speak up against injustice.
Because gender inequality harms women, but it also harms men, the society and our economy.
The only way forward is to work together.
So, in that spirit, I’m looking forward to the rest of the day.
I’m looking forward to hearing from experts, businesswomen and academics about their experiences and their ideas for the future.
I’m also particularly looking forward to hearing from Sarah, our youngest speaker.
Discussion and debate is as important for younger generations as it is for older ones. And we’re not going to get it right unless we listen and respond to their concerns.
But most importantly, I’m looking forward to listening to everyone here. I want to hear from every one of you. To understand your concerns and make sure we get our priorities in Government right.