After a very tense last week of negotiations, I am delighted that we were able to reach an agreement on this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
I am confident that our leading role contributed in shaping this successful outcome which will go a long way in helping to improve the lives of women and girls everywhere.
Every year representatives of UN Member States gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, to evaluate progression on gender equality and I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend along with Justine Greening and Lynne Featherstone, to meet ministers from around the world.
I’ve always said that we need to challenge outdated views, whether it is in the workplace or in society, if women are to achieve full equality. One of the areas that I’m passionate about is encouraging more women to consider careers in public and political life.
So whilst I was in New York, I wanted to use the opportunity to discuss what other countries are doing to encourage more women in to public and political life. Today there are 147 women MPs in the UK’s Parliament – just over 22% of the total. This might not seem like a lot, but in 1992, the figure was just over 9%. So while progress has been made we know there’s still a long way to go and it’sgreat to hear that this is something others are also focusing on.
Women and leadership
Not only is CSW an opportunity to engage with international partners but it’s also a chance to shine a light on the impact women are making around the world. In both the political and economic spheres we all need to do more to ensure that women are involved in making the decisions that affect us all. It was inspiring to meet WomanKind, partners from Kenya, Ghana and Nepal to hear how they are working at a local level to increase women’s participation in public life. Amidst others, we also had conservations with ministerial colleagues from Jamaica, Malaysia, Norway and Canada to discuss their various approaches.
Promoting careers in STEM
One of the highlights of my trip was the ‘Good for Equality, Good for the Economy; Getting More Girls into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)’. an event we co-hosted with Tanzania and GlaxoSmithKline UK., It was also great to share a platform with Nikki Yates, the newest member of our Women’s Business Council and Senior Vice President UK and Ireland Pharmaceuticals and UK Geneal Manager for GlaxoSmithKline UK.
The UK has a skills shortage of women in STEM sectors and keeping a focus on this is vital. The discussions concluded that there can be a number of reasons why including: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and less flexibility to accommodate the demands of family life.
Research shows that girls tend to perform better than boys at school, but this advantage does not carry over into the workplace. Women make up 46%of the UK’s work force, but in the STEM workforce, if we take out medicine we find only 15.5% of the workforce are women, and just 8%of engineering professionals are women. Additionally, despite the fact that girls out-perform boys in GCSEs and A-Levels, and there are more women graduating from university than men, just 12% of engineering and technology undergraduates are women.
Even more worryingly though, is that of those women who do gain a degree in STEM subjects, 70% do not go on to work in STEM jobs.
It’s not just women who are losing out on fantastic career opportunities but the wider economy too. So while women need STEM jobs, STEM jobs also need women.
CSW raised some interesting issues and it’s only by learning from each other and sharing our ideas; we can ensure that gender equality in political and economic life becomes a reality.
Improving the lives of girls and women around the world remains a priority for this government and we must now build on this to achieve greater gender equality and better rights of girls and women across the globe.