Opinion: We must not be complacent!


Yesterday was International Women’s Day. We have a lot be proud of, but there is still a long way to go.

On Friday I spoke at a hustings organised by Youth Parliament. Afterwards, I had several young women come up, inspired and engaged with what I had to say. It was brilliant to see them keen on becoming politically active.

But as I left I was approached by two teenage lads, well-spoken, but of a completely different mindset. They asked me why women should be encouraged into politics because “it is a career which suits men.” I was aghast. I could not believe that attitude could exist among young people today. I am prepared for sexism from older generations, but my generation and those younger than me surely have been brought up in a world where men and women are equal?

Clearly not. There is a lot still to do. Views I heard from these two young men were ones they had learned from their fathers (maybe even mothers?) and peers. They were not able even to hear what I had to say back to them. They were completely convinced that some jobs were for men and some for women.

How do we change underlying social attitudes? I wouldn’t mind some feedback on this one, but here are my thoughts.

I have always believed in leading by example. I refuse to be treated differently, though I admit I think some things in my music career might have gone differently had been a man. However I have refused to give in to the sexism that I have experienced (from women in the business as well as men) and I have stubbornly forged ahead. I could not have done so without a partner who completely believes in me and is a champion of women’s rights himself.

Which leads me to my second point, men need to champion equal rights as well, and I am grateful for the many who have done so. We need working men taking parental lead, balancing work with family commitments, doing their share of domestic duties, making sure women in their businesses are treated (and paid) equally.

Education. The two young men who spoke to me after the hustings were from an all boys’ school, whether grammar or private I could not tell as I did not recognise the blazer. Attitudes which are learned at school are often for a lifetime. We must do all we can to teach equal roles for men and women at school. Societal attitudes, class divisions, these can be handled through good, inclusive education.

Domestic violence. We really need to crack this one. Women will not be completely equal until we make them safe to have a voice, lead their own lives, and give them protection when they need it. Domestic violence is cyclical – boys who witness it often go on to be abusers themselves. That will be another blog from me on a later date.

We cannot grow complacent. I have three daughters, and I am determined they grow up in a society that is becoming more equal, not less. Let’s get women’s equality right not only in the UK, but in the world.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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  • Eddie Sammon 9th Mar '15 - 1:21pm

    I agree with many of your points Kirsten. I think many men do want to make more space for their family, but some jobs are so demanding it is difficult and I think we need to start splitting some demanding jobs among more people. Not turning all jobs into part-time job shares, but some jobs should come with a lighter workload. I think we also need to make some jobs simpler – when I was a financial adviser I had to deal with unnecessarily complicated tax and pension laws and that takes time away from our families.

    Good point on domestic violence. Feeling pretty safe is the one privilege that genuinely stands out for me.

    We also need to improve the gender balance below the line on Lib Dem Voice. On some discussions I am cringing hoping a woman comments next. There are positives and negatives to commenting on here a lot and I think everyone would benefit if it was more equal. I’ll be the first to admit that some of us men need to refrain from making so many comments.

  • Kirsten johnson 9th Mar '15 - 3:57pm

    Yes, I was hoping I might have some more women’s comments by now!

    I agree that a lot of jobs demand too many hours, and that many get stuck doing long days and can not easily spend time with family/share domestic duties. Employment hours and work/life balance really do need to be addressed to make a healthier and happier society.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Mar '15 - 4:07pm

    Kirsten, in the constituency where I used to be PPC there are more men called Peter standing (2) than there are women (0). Hard to keep hopeful in such a context!

  • Kirsten johnson 9th Mar '15 - 4:20pm

    We definitely need more women standing in all the parties. Research shows that there needs to be 30% of women on a given board before women are ‘automatically’ seen as viable for being on that board. Taking this to the political platform, we need to get 30% representation on ballot papers to have enough momentum to make true equality in Parliamentary seats a reality.

  • Kirsten johnson 9th Mar '15 - 4:51pm

    Please see the 30% Club: http://30percentclub.org/

    Also, see the Centre for Women and Democracy, 2014 Sex and Power report: http://www.cfwd.org.uk/

  • Unfortunately a large number in the world believe a woman is worth half of a man and in the last few years I see that attitude spreading in the west. Pornography has also demeaned women with men wanting their girlfriends to act as prostitutes. Talking to my daughter in Asia about the number of rapes she says that there is a lot of hard porn watched there. I am afraid for my daughter as you should be for yours as equality is being eroded daily. You speak of those two young men who are also bombarded with negative attitudes towards women through media and readily available porn. Respect for girls is disappearing.

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