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International Women’s Day: Boris Johnson doesn’t think the patriarchy is prevalent in the UK

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Hollie Richardson
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Boris Johnson

Prime minister Boris Johnson celebrated International Women’s Day earlier this week, but he also told a schoolgirl that we don’t live in a patriarchy.

Over the last week, the Conservative government has made two big steps in supporting women – but they were both well overdue. Firstly, the new Domestic Abuse Bill was reintroduced to parliament, after it was stalled during the last general election. And it has been announced that the ‘tampon tax’ will be scrapped in 2021 (although we’re unsure what will now happen to the funding distributed to charities through the Tampon Tax Fund).

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Both announcements were made on the week of International Women’s Day, which prime minister Boris Johnson seems intent on celebrating. That’s why he invited 50 female pupils from schools across the country to 10 Downing Street on Thursday, where he joined Dame Kelly Holmes and mathematician Dr Anne Marie Imafidon on a panel to discuss the future for females. The students were then invited to put their own questions to the prime minister.

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During the discussion and Q&A, Johnson talked about closing the gender pay gap, ensuring women aren’t underrepresented in any sectors, and his admiration for Malala Yousafzai. But there was one answer given by the prime minister that had to be called out by his fellow panellist.

One pupil asked: “Do you believe that the patriarchy is still prevalent in today’s society and if so what challenges do we face because of this as young women?”

Boris Johnson

Johnson replied, saying it’s “not strictly a patriarchy” because the system of male dominance in the UK “has changed a huge amount”.

He told her: “If, by patriarchy, you mean a system that insists on male dominance, I don’t think we have that. I think it has changed a huge amount – that’s why we have International Women’s Day.

The PM then continued to explain: “There is still implicit, unspoken discrimination – there’s no question about it.

“Basically, it’s so stupid – it means we are not releasing the potential, not allowing people in the country, to develop their talents in the way they could. It’s not just dumb: it’s wrong.

“It’s not strictly a patriarchy, but we’re not there yet.”

When the question was passed on to Imafidon, she quickly disagreed, saying “I think the patriarchy is still prevalent” before going on to list all the ways it is experienced in her STEM career. 

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While progress is being made in areas, there’s plenty of news from the last few weeks alone that challenge Johnson’s claim that it’s not “strictly” a patriarchy that we live in. 

The UN Development Programme’s first gender social norm index has found that almost 90% of people are biased against women around the world – with more than half of people in the UK holding at least one bias. 

A disturbing report from Plan International UK has found that 66% of girls aged 14 to 21 have experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public place.

And, even though more women are now studying at university than men, the Department of Education have just reported that female graduates have lower lifetime earnings.

There’s one thing we can all agree with the prime minister on: “It’s wrong”. 

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Stylist is joining forces with CARE International UK for the 2020 #March4Women, an International Women’s Day rally devoted to fighting the impact of climate change on women and girls around the world. Here’s how you can register to take part on Sunday 8 March.

Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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