How neuroscience has transformed our understanding of child development

As we celebrate the launch of Abbott and Burkitt’s ground breaking new book Child development and the brain, we asked author Esther Burkitt to tells us more about what inspired her interest in child development…

EstherThe rapid advance of methodologies led me to be interested in how we can better understand children’s development in core aspects of their lives. We used to rely on behavioural methods with observational measures which could tell us how children responded in a wide variety of situations yet which did not necessarily tell us about the mechanisms guiding their behaviour.

My passion for understanding child development stemmed from working as an assistant neuropsychologist in a clinic dedicated to assessing children’s cognitive, emotional and social development for assessment and intervention purposes.

We used a wide variety of measures to build a picture of how the children were feeling and functioning. This work led me to pursue a PhD designed to investigate how we might understand children’s feelings though verbal and nonverbal measures. This also involved a myriad of methods including objective behavioural and self-report measures to reach a fuller understanding of what children were feeling and what they were trying to communicate.

Mixed methods

Some researchers adopt a single specific approach to research and some adopt a mixed methods approach. I am in the latter camp as I believe that different kinds of information arise from different ways of examining an issue and when working with children we need to be creative in the methods we adopt to understand development from an adult and from their perspective.

Happy house by a six year old

‘Happy house’ by a six year old

A keen interest of mine involves trying to find ways that children express and communicate emotion in their drawings and to find ways audiences may better understand what emotions they are expressing and conveying. For example, we might think that a child feels positively about a person drawn in yellow until we realise that they dislike the colour intensely and use it to show negativity.

This has led me to adopt mixed methodologies to look at children’s drawn and verbal affective reports, their behaviours during the drawing process and how these measures fit, or often do not, with a range of adult audiences’ understanding of the children’s emotional experiences.

“we used to think that infants did not understand that the world existed beyond their touch yet now we know very young infants appreciate this”

This project offered a great opportunity to synthesis some core information about how different approaches to examining children’s development have changed our understanding of key developmental topics. For example we used to think that infants did not understand that the world existed beyond their touch yet now we know very young infants appreciate this.

I’m interested in going on from here and a potential next step in this work would be to measure the neuropsychology influencing drawn and written expression and communication and to assess what emotional pathways are activated during children’s engagement with different communicative channels.

Child development and the brain [FC]Child development and the brain launches today and you can buy your copy from our website here (RRP £19.99). Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community.

World Social Work Day 2015 #WSWD2015: WIN a Policy Press Social Work book of your choice…

Jess-photo

Jessica Miles, Marketing Executive

Today is World Social Work Day and you can follow all the actions and events happening around the world using the hashtag #WSWD2015. This year’s theme is ‘Promoting the Dignity and Worth of Peoples’, something we hope we contribute to, at least in a small way, here at Policy Press.

To celebrate we thought it would be great to find out from you which Policy Press social work title from recent years you’ve most enjoyed. In fact if you email us here with your favourite book and a bit about why you liked it so much, we’ll enter you into our prize draw to win a Policy Press Social Work title of your choice! Just mark your email ‘Happy World Social Work day‘ and send it to us by 5pm on Friday 20th March.

According to our data crunchers our top five best sellers over the past few years are:

The story of Baby PThe story of Baby P: Setting the record straight

by Ray Jones

The first book to tell what happened to ‘Baby P’, how the story was told by the media and its considerable impact on the child protection system in England.

 

Re-imagining child protection [FC]Re-imagining child protection: Towards humane social work with families

by Brid Featherstone, Susan White and Kate Morris

This important book challenges the current child protection culture and calls for family-minded humane practice where children are understood as relational beings, parents are recognized as people with needs and hopes and families as carrying extraordinary capacities for care and protection.

Understanding research for social policy and social work_2nd edn [FC]Understanding research for social policy and social work (2nd edition): Themes, methods and approaches

Edited by Saul Becker, Alan Bryman and Harry Ferguson

This acclaimed international textbook combines theoretical and applied discussions and case examples to provide an essential guide to research methods, approaches and debates.

The short guide to social work [FC]The short guide to social work

by Robert Adams

This one-stop text for new and prospective social work students is easy to read and full of essential information and practical advice about what is needed to qualify and practice in social work.

Communicating with children and young people [FC]Communicating with children and young people: Making a difference

by Michelle Lefevre

This timely book prepares social workers and other practitioners for the challenge of engaging directly with children and young people in order to make a difference to their lives.

 

We’ll also add you to our mailing list so you can be first to know about all our new Social Work books – please do let us know if you’d prefer not to receive these mails but don’t let that stop you from entering the draw! All entries must be entitled ‘Happy World Social Work day‘, emailed to pp-marketing@bristol.ac.uk and received before 5pm on Friday 20th March. The winner will be announced in our newsletter at the end of this month.

We also publish the journal, Critical and Radical Social Work… find out more here.

All these books are, of course, available to buy on our website. Find out more about these and our other titles in social work here. Don’t forget, if you’re a subscriber to the PP newsletter you get 35% discount on all our titles if you order on our website.

Don’t feel left out if you’re not a subscriber – click here to sign up now! We promise never to let anyone else have your details and we’ll only send you two newsletters a month, keeping you up to date with latest title information, special offers, free journal articles and forthcoming events.

Happy World Social Work Day!

Our thanks to our Marketing Executive Jessica Miles, who specialises in Social Work as one of her subject areas, for writing this post. You can follow Jessica on twitter here: @TPPjess

Tyranny’s False Comfort: Why Rights Aren’t Wrong in Tough Times

Human Rights Watch is an independent, international organization that defends the rights of people worldwide.  To celebrate the publication of their World Report 2015 this month we have reproduced an excerpt of Executive Director, Kenneth Roth’s (@KenRoth) article about the current state of human rights globally today. This post was first published on the Human Rights Watch website and can be viewed in full here.

Kenneth Roth

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director Human Rights Watch

The world has not seen this much tumult for a generation. The once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression. Islamist extremists commit mass atrocities and threaten civilians throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa. Cold War-type tensions have revived over Ukraine, with even a civilian jetliner shot out of the sky. Sometimes it can seem as if the world is unraveling.

Many governments have responded to the turmoil by downplaying or abandoning human rights. Governments directly affected by the ferment are often eager for an excuse to suppress popular pressure for democratic change. Other influential governments are frequently more comfortable falling back on familiar relationships with autocrats than contending with the uncertainty of popular rule. Some of these governments continue to raise human rights concerns, but many appear to have concluded that today’s serious security threats must take precedence over human rights. In this difficult moment, they seem to argue, human rights must be put on the back burner, a luxury for less trying times.

That subordination of human rights is not only wrong, but also shortsighted and counterproductive. Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating most of today’s crises. Protecting human rights and enabling people to have a say in how their governments address the crises will be key to their resolution. Particularly in periods of challenges and difficult choices, human rights are an essential compass for political action.

The Rise of ISIS

No challenge in the past year has exploded more dramatically than the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the extremist group also known as ISIS. One can only be appalled at ISIS’s mass execution of captured combatants and disfavored civilians. This Sunni armed group has singled out Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds, Shia, and even other Sunnis who contest its extreme interpretation of Islamic law. Its militants have enslaved, forcibly married, and raped Yazidi women and girls, and beheaded journalists and aid workers in gruesome videotaped spectacles. Rarely has an armed force engendered such widespread revulsion and opposition.

Yet ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum. In part it is a product of the United States-led war and military occupation of Iraq that began in 2003, which produced, among other things, a security vacuum and the abuses of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison and other US-run detention centers. Funding of extremist groups by Gulf states and their citizens also played a role. More recently, the sectarian policies of the Iraqi and Syrian governments, and international indifference to those governments’ serious rights abuses, have been important factors. If the conditions that led to ISIS are left to fester, the group could deepen its hold on the two countries and expand into Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, and beyond.

Iraq

In Iraq, ISIS owes much of its emergence to the abusive sectarian rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the resulting radicalization of the Sunni community. With Iranian backing, Maliki took personal control of Iraqi security forces and supported the formation of Shia militia, many of which brutally persecuted the minority Sunni population. Sunnis were excluded from select government jobs, rounded up and arbitrarily detained under new overbroad laws, summarily executed, and indiscriminately bombed.

The severity of the persecution can be measured by its effects. ISIS’s predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was defeated with the help of a military coalition of Sunni tribes in western Iraq known as the Awakening Councils. But many of the tribes that nearly single-handedly defeated AQI became so fearful of slaughter and persecution by pro-government security forces that when conflict broke out in 2014, they felt safer fighting those forces than ISIS.

Human rights groups persistently called attention to Maliki’s abusive rule, but the US, the United Kingdom, and other countries, eager to put their own military involvement in Iraq behind them, largely shut their eyes to this sectarian reign—and even plied it with arms.

Today, there is wider recognition that this indifference to atrocities under Maliki was a mistake. Eventually he was forced from office and replaced by Haider al-Abadi, who has pledged a more inclusive form of governance. But as Western military aid still flows into Iraq, abusive sectarianism has not ended. Maliki continues to serve as one of Iraq’s three vice presidents, and the weak government has vastly increased its reliance on Shia militia, allowing the mobilization of almost one million Shia fighters without government oversight or regulation. Indeed, because of the Iraqi army’s disarray, the militias are the lead ground forces fighting ISIS, despite their ongoing killing and cleansing of Sunnis as ostensible ISIS sympathizers. Until these atrocities end, the Shia militias are likely to do more to aid ISIS recruitment than to defeat ISIS on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has not ended indiscriminate military attacks in civilian areas or released a significant number of detainees held without a warrant or after completion of their sentences. The corrupt and abusive judiciary remains unreformed, and Abadi’s calls for an end to abusive, exclusionary rule remain unimplemented. Over the long term, completing these reforms will be at least as important as military action to protect civilians from ISIS atrocities.

Syria

In Syria, ISIS owes its rise to various factors, including porous borders with Turkey that have enabled fighters armed and funded by foreign governments to flow in. Many then joined the extremist group. ISIS has also generated funds through exorbitant ransom demands and “taxes” on people in territory it controls, as well as selling Syrian oil and antiquities.

With these building blocks, ISIS came to portray itself as the force most capable of standing up to the extraordinary brutality of President Bashar al-Assad and his troops. In vicious fashion, Assad’s forces have been deliberately attacking civilians who happen to live in opposition-held areas, aiming to depopulate these areas and punish presumed rebel sympathizers.

Since the Syrian government turned over its chemical weapons, its most notorious tool has been the barrel bomb, an oil drum or similar container filled with high explosives and metal fragments. Also used by the Iraqi air force, it has gained notoriety in Syria, where the air force typically drops it from a helicopter hovering at high altitudes to avoid anti-aircraft fire. From that height, the barrel bomb is impossible to target with any precision. It simply tumbles to earth, making its dreaded swishing sound as its contents shift back and forth, until it hits the ground and detonates.

Barrel bombs are so inaccurate that the Syrian military does not dare use them near the front lines for fear of hitting its own troops. Rather, it drops them well into territory held by rebel groups, knowing that they will destroy apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, and other institutions of civilian life. These indiscriminate weapons have made life so miserable for many civilians that some who do not flee the country choose to move their families near the front line, preferring to brave snipers and artillery rather than the horror of the barrel bombs.

When the Syrian government attacked civilians with chemical weapons, the United Nations Security Council pressured Assad to stop and to surrender his weapons. But as the Syrian government killed countless more civilians by indiscriminate attacks with conventional weapons such as barrel bombs, as well as cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, and unguided rockets, the Security Council has largely stood on the sidelines. A number of states have condemned the slaughter, but they have done little more to generate pressure to end it.

Russia has used its Security Council veto power to stop unified efforts to end the carnage. Russia, as well as Iran, has also refused to use their enormous influence in Damascus to press for an end to the indiscriminate attacks, despite demands from the Security Council, including Russia, for such attacks to cease. Referring Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to address serious international crimes by all sides, a step endorsed by more than 65 countries, remains anathema to Moscow.

The US-led coalition has taken on ISIS, but no nation—whether adversaries like the US, or backers like Russia and Iran—have increased pressure on Assad to stop the slaughter of civilians. The two cannot, and should not, be so easily separated

This selective concern has been a gift to ISIS recruiters, who portray themselves as the only ones willing and able to stand up to Assad’s atrocities. Simply attacking ISIS is clearly not going to end its appeal. A broader concern with protecting Syrian civilians is required.

To read more of Kenneth’s article please click here. You can follow Kenneth on twitter @KenRoth and you can follow Human Rights Watch there too – @hrw

World Report 2015 [FC]You can also purchase a hard copy of the World Report 2015 from the Policy Press website at a 20% discount here

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Celebrating Human Rights Day, 10 December

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

 

Policy Press March ‘editorial picks': Environment and Sustainability

Continuing in our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’ Assistant Editor Laura Vickers tells us a bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Environment and Sustainability titles and how the true measure of success in any future colonisation of Mars would be having access to ingredients to make the Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries…

Policy Press - 015Name: Laura Vickers

Title: Assistant Editor

What’s your background story?

I started at Policy Press straight out of University after completing my undergraduate degree in Sociology at Birmingham City University and then moving back home to Bristol. After a short period of work experience over the summer at the Press I then took up the position of Publishing Assistant. I’ve had several different roles at Policy Press over the past five years and became Assistant Editor in 2013 and subject editor for Environment and Sustainability in 2014.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?

I have overall responsibility for the peer-review system and am subject editor for the Environment and Sustainability list. I also support our Senior Commissioning Editor and Director with their commissioning activities across a range of subject areas and our trade list. I enjoy the contact I have with our authors and editors which is mainly via email but putting faces to names when I attend national conferences is always a pleasure.

What most excites you about Environment and Sustainability?

The issues covered across our Environment and Sustainability titles affect all of us both now and also in the future. The debates around whether climate change is happening are over and we are now faced with the essential ‘what do we do about it?’ questions. Our titles provoke debate around this question and I hope they make a difference to those debates.

What key things are happening in Environment and Sustainability at Policy Press this year?

In 2015 Bristol is the European Green Capital so there are a lot of exciting events taking place at the University and across Bristol to celebrate. The annual Policy and Politics Lecture on Tuesday is being given by Lord Anthony Giddens entitled ‘The Politics of Climate Change’ and there are many more events and talks taking place over the next year related to the theme of the environment linking in with Bristol 2015.

We continue to publish some great titles in the fields of the Environment and Sustainability. Towards the end of last year we published ‘Sustainable London?’ edited by Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees as well as ‘The Challenge of Sustainability’ edited by Hugh Atkinson and Ros Wade and of course shortly before those we also released Joel Magnusson’s great book ‘The approaching great transformation: Toward a liveable post carbon economy’ where Magnusson looks at life after the end of oil and other fossil fuels highlighting many warnings for the planet but also offering us some hope.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?

Brick Lane by Monica Ali (I have to admit that it has been there for quite a while though).

Victoria Pittman led the editorial picks in February – what would you say is her secret superpower/thing she is most awesome at doing?

Well, in our first (and now annual) Christmas baking challenge in 2013, Victoria wowed us all with her delicious mince pies winning first prize, so I think she’s pretty awesome at making those and it’s a shame we now have to wait another 9 months before we can taste them again.

Victoria’s question for you is: If the earth was about to be destroyed and you could only take one book with you to another planet, which one would you take?

The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries! I’m hoping that if this was to happen we would have colonised Mars and there would be some kind of supermarket open so that I could make some onion bhajis rather than just fantasise about them.

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?

Who will win the Rugby World Cup later this year?

 

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Policy Press February ‘editorial picks': Criminology and Criminal Justice

Blog: The Challenge of Sustainability

 

Policy Press: Women who inspire us #WD2015

International Women's Day in Egypt Credit:Al_Jazeera_English_(102)

International Women’s Day in Egypt Credit: Al Jazeera English

In the spirit of celebration for International Women’s Day we’ve been chatting in the Policy Press office about the women who have inspired us. Read on to find out who the women are we admire most and why…

Director Alison Shaw says that many women have influenced her at different times in her life, including too many feminist writers to even begin to list. She says:

“As for many people, my mum, Pat Shaw, and my grandmother, May Bottomley, were the first women to influence and inspire – both remarkably gentle, caring, selfless like so many women of their generations – yet mum was extraordinarily stoical when faced with cancer at 50 and showed amazing resolve and fortitude, characteristics that had always been there yet never given full expression until facing a true life challenge.

An inspiring political figure for me is Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, founding member and chair of the Council of Women World Leaders and now UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Change.

Her record on trying to make a real and lasting difference to gender equality, women’s participation in peace building and human rights internationally is amazing and her continuing work as one of The Elders inspiring.”

Crazy dreams

Editorial Assistant Rebecca Tomlinson is equally challenged by the notion of picking just one inspirational woman in her life! The two women she settles on from a long list of possibles are author J.K. Rowling and her ‘lovely’ mum. She says:

“I am very lucky in that I come from a family full of intelligent, strong and amazing women. Growing up, I was always encouraged to follow my passions and (often crazy) dreams, sometimes even if it was at the detriment of school or work.

I remember once telling my Mum that I was going to drop out of University, move to London and become a DJ. She just smiled and said “whatever makes you happy”. She has always actively encouraged my love of reading and writing and without that I probably wouldn’t have the passion for books that I do today.

In my opinion J.K. Rowling is also a great role model and inspiration to both women and men. A single mum who struggled with depression, she managed to write Harry Potter whilst living on state benefits and has forged an incredibly successful career doing what she loves.”

Overcoming obstacles

Rebecca isn’t alone in her appreciation of J.K.Rowling. Production and Publishing assistant Ruth Harrison also names the Harry Potter author as her number one inspirational person. Ruth says:

“JK Rowling overcame many obstacles including the poverty she experienced as a single mother. She now supports a number of charities including Lumos, a children’s charity, and uses her success to help make the world a better place. Plus, my 12-year-old self will always be a Harry Potter fan.”

Writers have always had the ability to leave their mark on us as readers as was the case with Marketing Manager Kathryn King’s inspirational woman, Vera Brittain. Kathryn says:

“..she was doing it in an era when it was much harder for women”

“I read all 3 of her Testament books around the time I decided to do my degree. She really inspired me to make that step as she was doing it in an era when it was much harder for women.

Then, having fought to get to Oxford, she gave up her place to go and nurse in France so that she could understand what the war was like for those involved. That experience politicised her and she dedicated her life to pacifism.”

Marketing Executive Jessica Miles’ choice is decidedly political. Her inspirational woman is Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement. Jessica says:

“At a time when so many people are disillusioned by politics, I think we should remember how hard Pankhurst and the other women in the movement fought to get women the vote. For this reason alone we should vote, even if it’s a case of choosing the ‘best of the worst’.

“Pankhurt’s approach of protest and direct action is inspiring”

I think Pankhurt’s approach of protest and direct action is inspiring. It’s easy to sit back and moan about the world, but much more challenging to be proactive and get involved in making change happen. We should take these women as our lead.”

Courage and selflessness

A woman who was prepared to go to extreme places for the benefit of others inspired Journals Executive Kim Eggleton. Kim says she was about 10 when she first came across the story of a lady called Gladys Aylward:

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward

“We watched a film at school called The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, about a woman from London who wanted to go to China as a missionary. I’ve been inspired by that woman ever since.

Gladys Aylward was turned down as a missionary because of her poor academic background and lack of Chinese language skills, but she spent her life-savings on a ticket and went anyway – completely alone on the Trans-Siberian Express.

Initially she worked for the government as a foot inspector, enforcing the law against foot-binding before later founding an orphanage. In 1938 Aylward led over 100 orphaned children across the mountains to safety from advancing Japanese forces. I find her courage and selflessness completely inspiring, what an incredible woman!”

History, both public and personal, is where Production Editor Jo Morton draws her inspiration from.  What connects the choices of Queen Elizabeth I and her nan, Alice Daniels, is the way both women defied the pressures of social convention. Jo says:

“I’ve always admired Elizabeth I’s determination to reign in her own right, in an era when women were expected to yield to male authority. She was not coerced (like Mary her sister) into contracting a marriage in order to appease her male councillers and secure the succession.

“…quietly but firmly stood her ground against social and family conventions”

Alice Daniels, 1940s

Alice Daniels, 1940s

On a personal level I would say my nan, Alice Louisa Daniels, was a real inspiration for me. She ran the family shop (during wartime when stocks were hard to maintain) while my grandad had a full time job elsewhere. She quietly but firmly stood her ground against social and family conventions that demanded she give up her job to take on the care of my grandad’s brother when his mother died. She knew that his challenging mental and physical health problems could be better cared for elsewhere. She was also a source of traditional wisdom – folklore, herbal remedies, proverbs, wise words – a connection with a disappearing world.”

Intelligence and expertise

Marketing Executive Susannah Emery takes her inspiration from a more contemporary figure, scholar Mary Beard, who received abuse for her opinions on immigrant workers in the UK. She says:

“I love her because she coped with the terrible social media barrage against her and, I think, came out of it acting as a of a role model for women being taken seriously for their intelligence and expertise rather than looks.”

The same spirit of standing ground on matters of social consciousness inspired Executive Assistant Sophie Osborne’s choice of singer-songwriter Patti Smith. Sophie says:

“It all began with Patti’s tribute to Kurt Cobain ‘About a boy’ and from that point forward I made it my point to be a little bit Patti. Beyond her breathtaking music and poetry Patti’s pursuit of social justice, her rebellious attitude and pure sassiness are something I hope to carry throughout my life.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the women that have inspired some of us at Policy Press. If you feel inspired to tell us about amazing women in your life we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

#makeithappen #WD2015 #internationalwomensday #womensday

#MakingItHappen – International Women’s Day 2015

To celebrate International Women’s Day, which takes place this year on Sunday 8th March, we asked author of Women of Power: Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, Torild Skard, to share her reflections on where we are today in terms of political gender equality and the necessary conditions to enable women to take crucial leadership roles within politics. 

Torild Skard

Torild Skard

For more than a century women have spoken out, marched and demonstrated for equality and rights on International Women’s Day. And there has been progress, though it has been uneven and slow. Whilst the gender gap globally has been nearly closed in areas such as health and education, it continues to remain wide open in economic participation and even more so in political empowerment.

In 2014/15 only 22 per cent of the members of parliament and 17 per cent of the government ministers worldwide were women. Not more than 9 per cent of the nation states had a woman as head of state or government. This is a record high, but still very far from gender balance, even from the benchmark of 30 per cent women.

Gender equality roadmap

The UN theme for international Women’s Day 2015 is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”. Governments and activists around the world will commemorate the 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic gender equality roadmap signed by 189 governments with the necessary strategic objectives and actions for achieving women’s rights.

The endorsement of the world’s governments of the Beijing Platform for Action in addition to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is decisive, but they then have to ‘walk the talk’. And follow up effectively.

Looking at steps that have been taken in the direction of equality – such as the increase in the number of women presidents and prime ministers worldwide over the past 50 years – can provide useful lessons to help us (and, perhaps more importantly, the politicians and policy makers) understand what conditions are necessary to achieve the goals they have agreed to.

“How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?”

Sirimavo_Ratwatte_Dias_Bandaranayaka_(1916-2000)_(Hon.Sirimavo_Bandaranaike_with_Hon.Lalith_Athulathmudali_Crop)

Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (1916-2000), the modern world’s first female head of Government, Copyright: Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne

In 1960 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister in what was then Ceylon, it caused international concern. How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?

Half a century later the woman president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, received the Peace Prize from an impressed Nobel Committee for her contribution to “ensuring peace, promoting economic and social development and strengthening the position of women”.

Attitudes evidently have changed – a bit. But all over the world national political institutions are still dominated by men. How did women manage to rise to the top, and what happened when they got to power?

HE_Ellen_Johnson_Sirleaf_(6011337236)

HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Credit: Wiki Creative Commons

During the half century after 1960 about 40 per cent of industrial countries have had one or more women as heads of state or government, while this has been the case for only 20 per cent of developing countries. High living standards improving people’s health, education and income may contribute to broader participation in politics.

In fact, most of the women presidents and prime ministers during this period were very well educated. Many had long professional careers before they became political leaders and achieved very high positions. To be able to get to the top, more women top leaders had such positions than their male predecessors.

Industrial countries have also often been democratic. And the great majority of women presidents and prime ministers around the world obtained their positions in countries that were characterized as “democracies”.

But the type of democratic system makes a difference. For example: of the women national leaders most rose to the top in countries with both a president and a prime minister. There were two top positions and a woman obtained one of them as part of a “top leader pair”. Very few women acquired the top position where there was only an executive president or an executive prime minister.

If a democratic system is necessary to increase women’s representation in the national political leadership, it does not follow that this is sufficient.

“An active feminist movement was required to increase the participation of women and their access to power”

 

After World War II, Western industrial countries mostly had liberal democracies with political rights for women. But women were usually not mobilized and welcomed in established political institutions. An active feminist movement was required to increase the participation of women and their access to power.

The women presidents and prime ministers did not become top leaders primarily because they were women, but because they felt they should lead the nation. Some also acted in the same way as their male colleagues, fighting on their terms, without being particularly engaged in ‘women’s issues’.

But many women top leaders tried to compromise, looking after both men’s and women’s interests. And a certain number challenged the male domination and explicitly promoted women friendly or feminist policies. In most cases, it made a difference that a woman rose to the top instead of a man, but the difference was often limited.

Dynamic women’s movement

To empower women then, woman-friendly democratization processes have to be actively implemented. A dynamic women’s movement is needed as a driving force and men with power must take their responsibility for reform of institutions and policies.

This means, among others things, that the political culture, the political parties and the media must ensure that women can promote their interests on equal terms with men. Parliament and government must become more representative, for example by changing the electoral system and adopting measures such as quotas to increase the recruitment of women. And “good governance” must entail emphasis on participation, protection of human rights and promotion of social justice and equality.

Women of Power Women of Power publishes in paperback on Monday 9th March. Copies are available from our website here & if you’re a subscriber to our newsletter you’ll receive a 35% discount on the website too (subscribe here if you’re not part of our community yet!)

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

March editorial: Inspirational women, men and social workers, of course!

RM-14-webDaffodils and crocuses are peeking through all over the place, the evenings are getting lighter and brighter and there’s a definite sense of spring in the air. 

Women of Power

Women of Power – publishes in paperback this month

Along with the freshening spring air, March brings with it International Women’s Day, which this year is celebrated on Sunday 8th March.

The 2015 theme is #MakeItHappen and we asked author Torild Skard to blog her views on what sort of environment is necessary for women to actually #MakeItHappen politically. As the adage goes, the personal is political, so we’ve also been chatting in the (predominantly female…) office about the women who have inspired us in our lives. We’ll be sharing some of those stories with you as part of #InternationalWomensDay.

The natural environment is increasingly political these days. We’re therefore thrilled to be welcoming eminent sociologist Lord Anthony Giddens to the Policy and Politics Annual Lecture, who will be talking to us about The Politics of Climate Change in 2015. The event is taking place on Tuesday 17th March at the Wills Memorial Building in Bristol.

"Anthony Giddens at the Progressive Governance Converence, Budapest, Hungary, 2004 October" by Szusi

Anthony Giddens, Budapest, Hungary, 2004 October” by Szusi

Although the event is now fully booked, don’t worry if you haven’t managed to secure yourself a ticket, you can still get involved and #askgiddens a question during the lecture via our live twitter feed @policy_politics. If you are attending though, do come and have a chat to us on the stand at the back of the hall before or after the lecture – it’s always lovely to meet you in person!

Tuesday 17th March is set to be a busy day all round for us at PP as it is also World Social Work day (WSWD). We believe in the importance and necessity of the work done by social workers and this is a core subject area for us. Later this month we’ll be asking you to vote for your favourite social work title and in the process you can enter a prize draw to win a Policy Press social work title of your choice! Watch this space and social media for more information…

Credit: Tony Hammond

Credit: Tony Hammond

And I haven’t even mentioned that it’s also St Patrick’s day….

Let me leave you with a glorious trumpet of sunshine as we merrily March our way into the month.

Warming spring wishes to you all

Rebecca

Blog Editor


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