With the world celebrating International Woman’s Day this week, what is our prime minister doing for women? On Thursday, four girls from schools across the country were able to ask Boris Johnson for themselves at 10 Downing Street.
When Boris Johnson gave his first speech as prime minister last year, he pledged to ensure that every girl would receive 12 years of quality education. His dedication to supporting women’s rights since then has, at times, been questionable: he stalled progress with the Domestic Abuse Bill (which has since been brought back) and was recently outed for making dismissive comments about single mothers.
But Johnson insists that his sister “kicked sexism out of him from an early age”. He believes that “men have enjoyed an automatic assumption that they are going to be in a certain position, and that still needs to be challenged”. And he agrees that “there is still a long way to go” in equality.
He said all this to a group of 50 female pupils from schools across the UK who attended an International Women’s Day event at 10 Downing Street. Joining Dame Kelly Holmes and mathematician Dr Anne Marie Imafidon for the panel discussion on Thursday 5 March, Johnson also revealed that the woman who inspires him the most right now is Malala Yousafzai. “She’s amazing, isn’t she?” he asked the group of students.
But these girls were not at the prime minister’s residence simply to sit and listen. They had questions to ask him – big ones – about what he’s going to do to ensure equality in their futures.
This is what happened when four female pupils– one from each school – put their questions to Johnson, and the answers he had for them.
What is the government doing to make sure that gender equality is being pushed further in schools?
We’re making sure that we don’t tolerate any inequality of any kind in our public services. We’re actually quite successful, in one respect: compared to my mother’s generation, women outnumber men at university and in higher education – that’s a fantastic achievement. That’s a turnaround. What we need to do now as a society is make sure that we have just as many women in the boardroom and just as many female CEOs. It’s no good just having the beginnings of change, you’ve got to see the change right the way through to the top. And don’t forget, the Conservative party is the only government to have not just one, but two female prime ministers.
What are your views on the gender pay gap and how do you think it will be tackled in the future?
I feel very strongly about it. And one way [to tackle it] is to stop companies from concealing their pay gaps. So we’re making it obligatory for companies to show the discrepancies in pay, so that there’s absolute transparency. It’s not fair. There should be equal pay for equal work, irrespective of gender and all the rest of it.
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?
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. 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.
How do we ensure that women can be leaders in the innovative and new careers of tomorrow?
It’s a brilliant question. It looks like there’s going to be a lot more automation in loads of sectors. That’s why I think we need both sexes to lead the UK in that field. One thing I think we all need to be doing is thinking of ways we can sort our CO2 problem. There’s going to be a huge number of jobs for the environment – technical solutions for reducing CO2 outputs, or actually changing homes and vehicles. There will also be a lot of jobs in trade industries. Women are currently underrepresented, massively, in construction, engineering, and all of those sectors. And that’s where I want to see much more progress.
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 too.