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International Women’s Day: Time’s Up for gender inequality

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Published on 06 March 2020

Professors from University of Sunderland
Professors from University of Sunderland

Sunday is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual – based around the view ‘an equal world is an enabled world’.

Here, women professors from the University of Sunderland express their views on how far we have come in terms of gender equality – and how far we still have to go….


Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “It’s an interesting time to be a woman in Education. In January 2020, the DfE published its annual report on the School Teacher workforce in the UK.

“Although the gender balance appears to be narrowing, gender equality in educational leadership continues to be a concern. This data reveals that while the school workforce in England is 75% female, with 22,400 head teachers, only 15,000 of these are women. In primary schools, although men make up only 15% of the workforce, they hold 28% of headteacher roles.

“In secondary schools, the issue is more pronounced, with 38% of the workforce male and 62% female and yet only 36% of women are headteachers. If these percentages were equal, there would be over 1,500 more female headteachers in the UK.

“I ask myself what these statistics say to the children in those schools? Representation matters.

“The presence of positive female role models such as Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg who play a part in inspiring young girls to pursue their interests and beliefs is undisputed, and yet I believe that girls need to understand that you don’t have to be famous to be a role model.

I think it is part of a teacher’s job, as an educator to encourage girls and support them to believe that, when they set their mind to it and are willing to work hard, there is so much they can achieve.

“We know that female teachers have a positive impact on the educational attainment of girls and young women students, but there are no gendered effects for males. This tells us quite a lot. It tells us that positive female teachers as role models and educators are crucial for young girls as they have the power to inspire and empower them to not only make a difference to their own lives but to the lives of others.

“This is a message which is shared widely with our student teachers at the University of Sunderland who leave us as the next generation of teachers with the belief, skills and knowledge that they have the power to influence the lives of the children and young people they teach.”

Professor Arabella Plouviez, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries, said: “Education is a brilliant tool for providing opportunity and choice in people’s lives. It is therefore important to recognise that education is a valuable means to empower women and challenge the gender inequality that surrounds us, and whilst education alone is not the answer, it is without doubt key mechanism for change.

“The need for gender equality is not just about natural justice, it is also, I would suggest, about progress and potential.

“As the global challenges around us build, from the worsening climate crisis to the sudden emergence of the Coronavirus, it is absolutely vital that real equality is seriously embraced to ensure we can make the best decisions, informed by a diversity of voices, to enable us to find our way forward as a planet.”

Angela Smith, Professor of Language and Culture at the University, said: “I think education plays a vital role in affecting social change towards greater equality. 

“It’s not just a matter of 'what' we mean by inequality, but why this is happening and how equality can be achieved.  The criticality that is embedded in our teaching helps our students understand these issues, and in turn they take this understanding out into the wider world.”

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual: An equal world is an enabled world.

It builds on the idea that we can all actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.

Donna Chambers, Professor of Tourism at the University, said: “Most of us will agree that women’s rights are human rights and yet the progress towards achieving equal rights for women and girls, particularly Black women and women of colour, is still painfully slow despite some progress. 

“Instances of gender based violence and harassment still continue to be a scourge throughout all levels of our societies. It is my firm belief that educational institutions like universities have a responsibility for embedding issues around gender based violence and harassment into the curricula and importantly also through the lens of intersectionality. 

“Universities have a responsibility for ensuring that their workplace policies and practices are effective in dealing with instances of gender based violence and harassment- the use of non-disclosure agreements when this is evidenced must also come to an end. 

“By being open, honest, respectful and inclusive in our dialogues, policies and practices, universities can make a significant contribution to ending gender based harassment and violence and ultimately progress gender equality. As universities we need to take seriously the point that ‘Time’s Up’…”

Catherine Hayes, Professor of Health Professions Pedagogy and Scholarship at the University, said: “Advocating and providing educational opportunity for women on a regional, national and global level is a key mechanism of not only changing the lives of those female individuals directly impacted upon but also an opportunity for intergenerational impact in the future.

“Such approaches are a fundamental means of reducing the inequities of educational marginalisation that have characterised the history of women’s education and women’s efforts in securing a collective and individual voice for them socially, politically and economically.

“I’m proud to be part of an institution that is aware of these issues and aims to reduce these once systematic inequities. In a world where being a female is no longer a barrier to achievement, barriers that still exist are now being removed, our institutional commitment to Universal Design for Learning, is a key example of this, which embraces the removal of institutional barriers to education for all members of society.”