Cllr Louise Gibbard, Joint Cabinet Member for Supporting Communities and Council Member Champion for Women
Today is International Women’s Day, an annual celebration of women’s work and achievements but also an opportunity to reflect on ongoing inequality around the world, and closer to home. This year’s theme is “Choose to Challenge” and I want to use the opportunity to look at the culture of gender stereotyping and toxic masculinity which is so damaging to both women and men.
Whilst we are certainly making some significant advances in many areas of gender equality, I’m greatly concerned that this may mask more subtle and potentially dangerous trends especially over the past year of lockdown.
In most families these days, there is a fairly even division of labour with both partners taking responsibility for cooking, cleaning and childcare but evidence suggests this has gone out the window in many households during the pandemic. Children’s charity Theirworld reports that girls and young women aged between 14 and 24 have taken responsibility for the majority of chores with 66% saying they are spending more time cooking for their families as compared with 31% of boys and men in the same age group. They are also doing more cleaning, shopping and looking after siblings. The Office for National Statistics found that 67% of women were taking charge of their children’s home schooling with 53% of women saying it was having a negative impact on their mental health.
Outside the home is not much better. Research in 2018 from Plan International UK revealed that 66% of girls aged 14 to 21 had experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public place. Elite women athletes have reported the increase in wolf-whistling, heckling, and even been the target of beer cans while they have trained during lockdown. And here in Swansea recently there have been a number of widely reported cases of sexual assault and harassment of women and girls in our parks and streets. Whilst the change in COVID regulations to allow people to meet up with another person for exercise were welcome, it is shameful that one of the key factors driving this was how unsafe many women felt going out alone.
Some may wish to brush a cheeky comment from a stranger off as ‘banter’, but it is all part of treating women and girls like objects rather than people going about their day. Harassment is part of a spectrum of abuse which can build to extreme acts, including violence. In the UK. In the UK an average of two women a week are killed by their current or former partner and many more are living with the daily struggle of emotional, financial, physical or sexual abuse.
Of course, domestic violence does not only effect women and we perhaps don’t know the true extent of abuse experienced by men but that is again because of persisting attitudes about gender- that men should suffer in silence and it’s not ‘manly’ to talk about their emotions. It’s this same attitude that makes male suicide the single largest cause of death amongst men under 45 in the UK.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Let’s encourage our boys to be caring and creative, and our girls to be tough and technical. Let’s call out street harassment for what it really is- a crime, not a compliment. Let’s value diversity and support under-represented voices in all walks of life. Let’s listen to survivors’ stories. Let’s choose to challenge gender stereotyping and abuse in all its forms.
For 24/7 support with domestic abuse visit: https://www.swansea.gov.uk/YouAreNotAlone
Or contact Live Fear Free Call: 0808 80 10 800, Text: 07860077333