Archive for the 'Equality and Diversity' Category

What is life like when you first get to the UK as an asylum seeker?

Whilst Syrian refugees continue to flee from their country in search of sanctuary and a better life, there’s still little sign of consensus in Europe in terms of a unified policy of aid and support, although the debate has at least become more compassionate in recent weeks.

Continuing to focus on the personal, today’s interview is an excerpt from a piece first published in full in Critical and Radical Social Work in which campaigner Amal Azzudin talks about her experience of coming to the UK and the ongoing fight against racism.

Original interview by Laura Penketh, Liverpool Hope University, UK.

The policy of detaining children for immigration purposes ended in 2010. The ‘Glasgow Girls’ campaign played an important part in the decision to change the law, and also contributed to the implementation of a more child-friendly asylum process. These were a group of smart and feisty teenage girls and school friends, who took on the might of the system when, in 2005, their friend Agnesa Murselaj, aged 15, and a pupil with them at Drumchapel High School in Glasgow, was dawn-raided and detained with her family.

AmalAzzudin_University of Glasgow

Amal Azzudin Photo: University of Glasgow

What follows is an interview with one of the ‘Glasgow Girls’ – Amal Azzudin – who campaigned alongside her friends, Roza Salih, Ewelina Siwak, Toni-Lee Hendeson, Jennifer McCann and Emma Clifford, to fight for the release of their friend Agnesa.

Can you tell me a little about when you arrived in Glasgow, where you came from, and your first impressions of the city?

I came to Britain from Somalia and we left the country due to the civil war that is still ongoing. There are tribes who fight amongst each other, which caused, and still causes, much unrest and danger to civilians. My mum and I left because it was getting too dangerous for us. My mum, my baby sister and I initially lived in London for 18 months but we were living in crowded accommodation and then found out we were going to be dispersed.

We thought that meant to somewhere in the local area but we were dispersed to Glasgow. We were on a really big coach with loads of other families and they were all gradually dropped off. I asked the coach driver if we were going to be the last ones being dropped off and he told us yes, because we were going to Scotland. We had never heard of Scotland or Glasgow. When we found out, one of the women on the coach said she felt sorry for us going to Glasgow as “everyone is racist and it snows all the time”. But they were so wrong and it is my home now as I have lived here most of my life.

What were your early experiences of life in Glasgow around issues of ‘race’ and racism?

At the beginning there was a lot of racism and the biggest mistake the council made was not to prepare local people for asylum seekers. The community was not prepared for our arrival and there was a lot of ignorance around. One of my friends from Algeria got stabbed and nearly died trying to stop a fight. There was a large police presence outside the school at the time and it was very scary. I got my headscarf pulled off by boys and stuff like that. It got so frightening that my mum said that we should not leave the house after 6pm.

We stayed in the high rises, which was really bad and it was not safe for us to go out in the evening. I think my mum experienced more problems as I had Drumchapel High School and my teacher Mr Girvan, which made it much easier for me. My mum had little support and she found it difficult finding her way around the area. Her English was not good initially but she went to college and took some courses and then we got granted leave to remain. Now she is a community worker and is very well known and she works with asylum-seeking women around female genital mutilation. She is part of society now and is very busy work-wise.

Can you tell me how the ‘Glasgow Girls’ campaign began?

In 2005, one of my friends from Kosova, Agnesa, was arrested and detained and our campaign started when we fought to get her back. I was the first to go to our teacher, Mr Girvan, when we found out she had been taken away. I said I was not going to attend classes because I did not understand why she had been removed and was being treated like a criminal. She had done nothing wrong and had been living in Glasgow for five years.

Obviously they couldn’t force me to go to classes and the other girls joined me because we were all very upset and distressed. Roza and Ewelina were in the same situation as Agnesa and did not have leave to remain so they were very scared they might be next. For me it was horrible knowing I had the right to remain, and it was also a worrying time for my mum. She did not want me to threaten our situation and wanted me to keep out of it. But Agnesa was just a child like me and I had to do something – my conscience would not let me leave it. I did not know if I was going to achieve anything but I knew I had to try.

How did the campaign progress and what strategies did you adopt?

Mr Girvan asked us what we wanted to do, so Emma came up with the idea of a petition. We went round the whole school and got people to sign a petition to get Agnesa back and I think that was the first step in combating racism in the school too. Other pupils were like “well, we don’t like you and we don’t know why you are here but Agnesa is one of us now”. This gave us the chance to talk and explain why we were in Glasgow and once people heard our stories it made a huge difference.

Obviously we knew we couldn’t change everyone’s mind and there were some pupils who did not want to understand, no matter what, but we did start to change things. It was really important that the school supported us. The head teacher and most of the other teachers were great. Anyway, almost everyone at school signed our petition and we took it to our local Member of the Scottish Parliament and he invited us to Parliament to sit in on debates. We were also invited to meet the First Minister at that time and it just took off from there. We were on news programmes regularly and Agnesa was released three weeks later.

What was the significance of your actions in terms of changes to attitudes?

I always say that the biggest thing we achieved to this day is raising awareness. I think what was really successful about the campaign was that we were a group of seven girls who were not politicians. We had no agenda and we were children. That was very powerful.

There is a common stereotype that young people cannot be involved in politics and stick up for their rights and we broke those myths. People saw how passionate and determined we were. I was increasingly recognised and was always being photographed, and I did not fit the common stereotype of a Muslim woman because I was opinionated and outspoken. I felt I needed to take advantage of my growing status to influence change. In Somalia I would have been oppressed and silenced very quickly if I spoke out and I could even have been killed. It was as extreme as that. Looking back, we have come a long way. Of course, there is still a lot of racism out there, but I think there is also more understanding too.

Are conditions today any better for asylum seekers seeking leave to remain?

Well, families cannot be placed in detention centres now in Scotland. This is not supposed to happen across the UK but I know that in England this is not the case. There are not as many dawn raids now either, but what happens is when people go to sign on at the Home Office they just keep them and deport them.

One woman I know has been seeking asylum for 20 years. She came here when she was 13 and she is now 33. She cannot go to university despite being really clever and although she has so much to contribute to society and the economy, she can’t. She has to sign on each month and she is absolutely terrified the night before. Sometimes I go with her and wait outside and she can be in there for an hour or more. We are the only country in Europe that has indefinite detention.

What are your thoughts on rising levels of Islamophobia in society?

It is an extremely tough time for Muslims in the West at the moment due to the rise in Islamophobia. I have heard and read so many stories about how Muslim men and women have been verbally abused and physically attacked. The horrific acts committed by a few people who ‘claim’ to be Muslims are being used to ‘tar everyone with the same brush’.

According to the 2011 Census, Islam has been practised in the UK for 300 years yet somehow it is now that we see the rise of anti-Islamic views and attacks on Muslims. Islamophobia is being used by certain groups such as the far right to divide communities and incite hatred. The media has a huge role to play in promoting the rise of anti-Muslim hatred. The continuous double standards of some sections of the media only feed into the rise of segregating Muslim communities from the rest of society.

There is an issue regarding some people’s lack of understanding regarding what Islamophobia is and that it a worry because if people do not recognise it then how can we challenge it? Muslim women may be an easy target for Islamophobic attacks, especially if they are wearing the headscarf and are visibly recognised as a Muslim. There was an old man who was murdered when he was going home from his local mosque and a pregnant woman was attacked because she was wearing a headscarf. These sorts of attacks spread fear among communities and should not happen to anyone, regardless of race, religion and gender and so on.

What are your hopes and expectations for the future?

Well, my name Amal means ‘hope’ in Arabic so I am always hopeful and I try to stay positive. We are facing very difficult times and the issues that we have to confront are huge. I think future debates are going to be interesting. I am so proud of the city of Glasgow and how people stand up against injustice, which is not the case everywhere. Despite many challenges, when I look at the UK as a whole and compare it with France, I think we are in a much better position. For example, we have not banned the hijab here and I hope we never do.

I think we have to educate and communicate with people from all backgrounds and break down barriers. Schools could be very important in educating young people and raising awareness, and I think leadership in schools is crucial. There could be input from primary school onwards. We have been invited into schools to talk about our campaign, which has been very successful.

A couple of weeks ago, we spoke to Primary Seven pupils in a local school who wanted to start their own campaign for the right for every child to have an education. There was an assembly, which we were invited to attend along with parents, and the children had made placards and put together a petition, which they were getting people to sign. The local newspaper did a big piece about it and their teacher said they were going to come to the city centre to hold a mini-demonstration. In school they had pictures of Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai on the walls and one of the pupils went home and wrote about me. It was overwhelming. Imagine if all schools promoted active citizenship in this way!

CRSW 203 [FC]

Interview reproduced courtesty of Critical and Radical Social Work. For more information about the journal and to find out how to subscribe please click here.

To read the interview ‘Asylum, immigration and anti-racism – an interview with Amal Azzudin’ in full please click here.

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.

Do politicians still need to know about ethnicity?

Authors Stephen Jivraj and Ludi Simpson’s edited book Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain: the dynamics of diversity publishes early next month. In this guest post Stephen Jivraj asks whether ethnic and race statistics are necessary for social inquiry and why politicians should take note of them.


Stephen Jivraj

It has been more than 20 years since national statisticians in the UK decided to record ethnic group identification in the census.

In that time, a question on ethnicity has become standard on most national and local surveys. But why do we collect these data? This is pertinent given that so many people, 4 million, did not find a category on the 2011 Census form that they felt described their ethnic group and ticked Other White, Other Asian, Other Black, or, simply, Other.

The categories that people have been asked to identify with at each census (1991, 2001 and 2011) have changed to reflect the dynamic nature of how people see their ethnic identity. But it is fair to say, they have not changed fast enough. So why do we continue to collect these data and how do they help us direct social policy?

Community relations

The ethnic group data from the census allows researchers to challenge misconceptions and misrepresentations that Britain is pulling apart along ethnic divides whether that be where we live or how we feel about our national identity.

Britain’s ethnic minority groups are not evenly distributed across communities. However, the census paints a picture of a steady increase in residential ethnic mixing in all parts of Britain, and at a faster rate in those suburban and rural communities where ethnic minorities are least present.

“It is also true that you are more likely to share a home with a person from a different ethnic group”

It is not only the case that you are more likely to live next door to someone from a different ethnic group than ever before, whether you live in London or the Lake District. It is also true that you are more likely to share a home with a person from a different ethnic group. Perhaps the clearest sign that people are not divided ethnically is the growth of the Mixed groups who now account for more than one million people in England and Wales.

The speed at which ethnic minorities have assimilated to a British national identity is remarkable and has been common despite an absence of any formal requirements of new citizens to express their Britishness, for example, in ceremonies, until very recently.

Those ethnic minorities that are most often singled out as not having British values, by those least comfortable with the growth of ethnic diversity, are those who are most willing to describe themselves as British. This raises the question as to whether integration policies would be better focused at challenging those who hold prejudice against ethnic minorities rather than laying the emphasis on immigrants and their descendants to meet unclear requirements for what it means to be considered British.

Inequality and discrimination

The main motivation that encouraged the official collection of ethnic group data was to uncover inequalities brought about by racial discrimination. This motivation remains, unfortunately, valid because disadvantages persist in the spheres of health, employment, education, housing and neighbourhood deprivation for many ethnic minority groups compared with the White British majority.

“Men in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are six and twelve times more likely to be working part time than White British men”

The evidence is clear that ethnic minority groups have suffered disproportionately during the past 20 years’ restructuring of the labour and housing markets. For example, the rise of part-time work. Men in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are six and twelve times more likely to be working part time than White British men. In the housing market, ethnic minorities have been hit the hardest by the rise in insecure private rented tenancies. Chinese and Black African households have more than twice the proportion renting privately than the White British groups.

This suggests structural discrimination remains widespread and should be combatted with social policies that embody cultural and institutional encouragement of non-discriminatory practices. The fact that disadvantage persists in spite of existing legislation and social policy begs the question of what is systemic about disadvantage, and how can systemic faults be remedied?

Where next?

It is almost certain that more ethnic group categories will be added to the census in 2021. This might ensure the question is more meaningful, but it runs the risk of fragmented analysis that policymakers will find of diminishing use. New census questions on religion, language proficiency and national identity have enabled policymakers to measure diverse preferences and needs directly.

To address direct race discrimination, information that relates to appearance is still necessary. Consideration of other countries practice of separating ‘colour’ or ‘race’ from ‘origin’ might be the way forward. For the time being, the Census remains crucial to highlighting what is happening to race and ethnic integration and inequality in Britain and what is likely to happen in the future. Key results on the future direction of diversity and the degree of inequality in different parts of Britain are still emerging.


If you liked this post you might also be interested in reading….

How can we be smarter in talking about race by Ludi Simpson

Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain [FC]Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain: the dynamics of diversity is available from the Policy Press website – here. A launch event will be held at Manchester Central Library on 21st May. Tickets are free but booking is required. You can reserve your place here.

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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.

How can we be smarter in talking about race?

Author and academic  Ludi Simpson responds to last month’s Channel 4 Documentary – Things we won’t say about race that are true

Ludi SimpsonI have always thought that being open and critical, questioning and demanding, was the adult thing to do. So I am interested when I hear someone saying that equality policies should not silence anyone, as Trevor Phillips did in a television opinion piece on 19th March.

He doesn’t need me to give him extra publicity, but the way he called on us all to use more stereotypes about behaviour demands some consideration.

His claim was that too many White people in Britain feel they have been told they are guilty of racism and think they will get into trouble if they say what they think about people different from them. And this pent-up guilt among too many White people is feeding a political move to the right that threatens to pull down the legislation against discrimination.

More open stereotyping

Whether or not policies on equality or diversity might be to blame, Trevor Phillips demands that we free ourselves up to voice our thoughts about the behaviour of other groups. At this moment, more open stereotyping would be good for democracy: ”we need to get used to giving and taking offence”.

Accordingly he felt just fine saying that Jews are rich and powerful, that Colombians are responsible for drugs crime, that Britain is segregated into areas that are White, Irish, Jewish, or Pakistani, that Indian women are pharmacists, and that Black people murder other Black people. He would particularly like people who are fed up with immigrants to be able to say so without being rounded on as bigots or closet racists.

Well, I’m glad he got that off his chest. Just maybe he did not need an hour of prime TV to say it, and perhaps it was not quite accurate to call it a documentary.

It is certainly a change that White folk – who for a century had been told they were of the only superior race, and that they therefore deserved more than others – are now as bound as anyone else by equality laws that put human rights ahead of group rights and make race discrimination illegal.

“Who’s getting the White man’s share now?”

Anyone who believed the tosh of White or British supremacy might well believe there must be a link between the decline of industry, the rise of financial austerity, Britain’s growing diversity, and the passing of equality laws. Why haven’t the establishment stood up for them as promised? Who’s getting the White man’s share now?

It is also a change of the past thirty years that political parties no longer have a distinctly class perspective, no-one convincingly speaks up for the under-dog. The organised underdog, the labour movement outside parliament, is weaker and legislatively undermined. The opportunity for unfettered disenchantment within the working class is significant.

It is sensible to recognise this, and that is Trevor Phillips’ strength. However, I don’t think it can be sensible to encourage a racial, ethnic and nationalistic focus for that disenchantment, as he is doing.

Programme interviewee Tarique Ghaffur, the Metropolitan Police ex Assistant Commissioner, was much clearer: “We need intelligence-led investigations, otherwise we stereotype and stigmatise whole communities.” And Simon Woolley, one of his colleagues on the Equality and Human Rights Commission, clearly told Phillips: “Be articulate about issues without being fuzzy. We have to be smart.”

Residential segregation

I wish Trevor could be smarter on segregation. He says “residential segregation is not the only cause of terrorism, but I believe it is one condition that allows it to thrive”, referring to the July 7th 2005 London bombings and the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris last year.

But it is the only condition that Trevor raises. He ignores the evidence, which is that Muslim terrorist offenders are no more likely to be found in less White than more White areas, and that there is no evidence for a residential pulling apart of ethnic groups. He doesn’t mention Britain’s foreign policy of military intervention.

The smart thing to do is to point at real causes of real problems and try to do something about them. I agree that it is not helpful to point to people’s talk as the problem.

But neither does it help to suggest that there is “ethnic behaviour” that is helpful in tracking crime or choosing who to be educated with. The programme dealt in depth with paedophilia cases. All paedophilia should be targeted and dealt with severely, never protected, and those affected supported to prevent its recurrence; it doesn’t help to suggest that it is Pakistanis (or celebrities) who are most to blame.

People like to live in areas with some others like them. That could be called the good or benign segregation. Bad segregation is the real problem, not because it is linked to terrorism which it is not, but for lack of housing and employment and the disenchantment that follows.

Lack of opportunity is not limited to diverse areas, or for that matter to minorities: there are far more White unemployed than minority unemployed, even though minorities are more likely to be unemployed. The smart thing would be to also name and tackle structural discrimination of race, ethnicity and class. A perspective and politics that can unite those aims and harness the disenchantment that he perceives acutely, would be a good place for Trevor Phillips to put himself.

Sleepwalking to segregation_ [FC]Ludi Simpson and Nissa Finney’s book ‘Sleepwalking to segregation?’ explores contemporary claims about race and migration, combining an overview of the subject with new research. The authors argue that the myths of race and migration are the real threat to an integrated society and propose that diversity and mobility are expected and benign.



Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain [FC]Look out for Ludi Simpson and Stephen Jivraj’s book Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain which publishes in May this year. You will be able to purchase the book from our website here and newsletter subscribers will get 35% off if they order via the website. Not a subscriber? Why not sign up? We promise we won’t let anyone else have your data and we’ll only send you information on the books we publish. Sign up here!

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: 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 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, 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.

Getting By, getting published and getting to ‘that London’

Writer, academic and guest blogger Lisa Mckenzie provides a personal and powerful insight into what it means to see her book Getting By published this week.

Lisa Mckenzie, author of 'Getting by'

Lisa Mckenzie, author of ‘Getting by’

After a lifetime of working class experience (mine as well as those in the book) and ten years’ of research, Getting By, is being published.

I have mixed feelings about reaching this stage of my research and my life: I am nervous about its publication, but also about the route my life is taking. I appear to have become part of the establishment at the London School of Economics, and, heaven help me, in ‘that London’.

The anxieties I have over my book becoming an item that you can hold in your hands, and something people can buy, are I suppose the normal anxieties every writer has when their thoughts are allowed out of their heads and into the public domain. Will anyone read this book? I hope they do, is my first reaction, quickly followed by, I hope they don’t.

With this book there is an added anxiety about how I have represented the people who have given me their time, their stories, allowed me to share in their lives. I carry a responsibility, as all researchers do to their respondents, to ensure they are not misrepresented. The way working class people, especially those who live on council estates, are misrepresented is at the heart of this book, and at the heart of the activism I undertake.

Devaluing and dehumanising

I know first-hand the painful consequences of what happens when working class people are devalued, what it means to be ‘looked down on’, ‘laughed at’, ‘ridiculed’ and despised. It hurts, and it is damaging. This type of institutional devaluing of any human being is also dangerous.

“the process of devaluing people…has been at the root of fascism, racism, slavery, and capitalism”

Without being too dramatic (actually why not, it is dramatic), the process of devaluing people is a way of dehumanising them which has been at the root of fascism, racism, slavery, and capitalism. It allows for the justification of the process and outcome of inequality, where some people can be treated badly, and/or cruelly while others receive equally unfair societal advantage.

The essence of this book is to show that the people who live on St Ann’s council estate in Nottingham have been subject to unfair disadvantages because they are working class, because they live in social housing, because they are low paid, unemployed and precarious. The book also makes clear that this kind of disadvantage, and any systematic devaluing of groups of people is structural, purposeful and historical.

People ‘like me’

I left school before I was 16, worked in a factory making tights for nine years, and am now researcher, author, teacher at the LSE, and in ‘that London’.

In 1984 when I left school at the beginning of the Miners’ Strike, education was not for the likes of me. My school careers interview consisted of asking me which factory I wanted to work in, and had I got one lined up? I said ‘yes thank you I’m going to work with my mum’, and I did.

“I believed the rhetoric and thought that it was my fault: I hadn’t worked hard enough at school”

My own story demonstrates clearly and obviously that I was subject to the unfair disadvantages that class inequality bestows on people ‘like me’. I, like many, believed the rhetoric and thought that it was my fault: I hadn’t worked hard enough at school and I wasn’t interested in education as a child.

However (and fortunately) that changed as I somehow found myself doing a sociology degree at the University of Nottingham as a mature student. It didn’t take me long to understand that I should have always been in higher education.

1415838227-class-war-women-wear-red-at-poor-doors-aldgate-protest_6252752A university education is a remarkable thing, and I am grateful for it, and to those who have imparted their knowledge to me, helped me and supported me. However that doesn’t stop me from being angry for my friends, my family, my community and my class, that the process of de-valuing working class people hurts them, and benefits others.

A question of representation

Consequently it lies heavy on me that I represent people who I think of ‘like me’ fairly and accurately. Does this mean that I show the people of St Ann’s in Nottingham as tireless working class heroes, chirpy in the face of inequality like the Downton Abbey servants? The deserving, humble, and not-angry-at-all working class? I’m sure those who are advantaged by our disadvantage would like that.

Or do I represent them as downtrodden victims of the endless misery that class distinction, and class inequality produces, perhaps in the way that George Orwell does in the Road to Wigan Pier?

And of course there are other ways to represent working class people and the neighbourhoods where they live as one-dimensional ghettos full of gangs, drugs, sex, and violence. This view would definitely grab the headlines give me a bit of fame, perhaps allow me to curry a bit of favour with the Daily Mail, and even get the ear of a Minister, they love that sort of thing.

None of this would be true, it wouldn’t be fair, and it would say nothing about the complexity of family life, community, and inequality in Britain today, or in actual fact, ever.

So what I have tried to do is bring to life the life, the people, and the situations I have known and lived. These are all of the above – heroes, villains, victims – and everything in between.

Stories from the ‘inside’

And lastly, since I have been in constant turmoil and anxiety of my own class position and how it relates to this book, my research, and now my life… why did I write this book at all?

I wanted and still want to tell the stories from the inside, from the position of a working class woman, with a common Nottingham accent. From the position of an academic who doesn’t know the correct grammatical use of ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’. From a granddaughter whose Granddad couldn’t read and write, and died from emphysema from working down the pit his whole life. And whose Grandma had 10 children and only left Nottinghamshire to go to Skegness for our holidays. She had never been to ‘that London’.

Getting by [FC]Getting by publishes on Wednesday 14th January and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here

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.

Celebrating Human Rights Day, 10 December

AS today is Human Rights Day we wanted to celebrate by sharing with you some of the striking photo essays by award-winning photographers from the World Report 2014.

This year’s slogan is ‘Human Rights 365’, emphasising the fact that every day is, or should be, Human Rights Day. At Policy Press we are proud to publish the annual Human Rights Watch’s World Report, which reminds us that human rights abuses continue around the world. It is imperative that we continue to monitor these inequalities and fight for rights that for most in the West think commonplace and too easily take for granted.

Slideshow images are taken from the global rights watchdog’s 24th annual review of global trends and news in human rights which features incisive country surveys and hard-hitting essays highlighting key human rights issues.

Images are reproduced with the permission of

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Human Rights WatchIf you would like to find out more about the World Report 2014 or order copies at a 20% discount, please go to our website.

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