Celebrating women who make a difference

Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism campaign is on the Power List. Photograph: Ken McKay/Rex
Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism campaign is on the Power List. Photograph: Ken McKay/Rex
Share this article
Have your say

AN ANTI-RACISM campaigner; an NHS reformer; and a scientist specialising in genetics and cancer research.

These are the three women in the top spots on the Woman’s Hour Power List 2014: Doreen Lawrence, OBE, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence; Julie Bailey, CBE, who blew the whistle on neglect at Stafford Hospital; and Professor Nazneen Rahman, a geneticist specialising in early identification of cancer risk. Each has, in her own way, devoted her life to making the lives of others better. Among others on the list are: Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism campaign; Julie Bentley, chief executive of Girl Guiding UK; and Nimco Ali and Leyla Hussein, who have campaigned against female genital mutilation.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, on the inaugural list, it was a woman who inherited her position (the Queen) in at number one, followed by a woman (Home Secretary Theresa May) appointed by a man who now has only three women in his entire Cabinet, and in third place a banker.

According to judging panel chair, Emma Barnett, the ambition for the 2014 list was to recognise the women making a real difference now. Who could object to such a laudable aim?

Plenty of people as it turns out. The gripes have run the gamut from the general (what’s the point?) to the boringly familiar (why should women get their own list?) to the pathetically pedantic (what’s a game-changer, anyway?). Honestly, how miserable.

Twelve months ago asking what the point was made sense because all the list did was reinforce the fact that the easiest way for women to be powerful is to be born into power and privilege. This year, the quibble seems to be about what good it does knowing that some women have power, whatever that is, when so many are powerless. Seriously? Consider for a moment how women are represented in public life. In Westminster they don’t make up a quarter of MPs (23 per cent) in Holyrood they’re just over a third (35 per cent). Women constitute just 21 per cent of university professors, and a paltry 17 per cent of FTSE 100 directors. If girls don’t see women impacting on the world then they are unlikely to imagine themselves as being able, one day, to do the same.

So why do women need their own lists? I suppose if the playing field between women and men was level then they wouldn’t, but it’s not, it’s vertiginously stacked. Power isn’t neutral, it always needs challenged.

As for the definition of game-changer, the judging panel were good enough to provide one. It is someone who uses their power to support others, who is resilient and independent, resourceful and courageous. So you’ll hear no moaning from me. I welcome the Power List because it looks to the future. It illustrates what many grassroots activists embody – that real influence is shifting away from establishment institutions and is instead finding a place on the streets and in communities. That is cause for celebration.

Break pollution cycle

IF YOU need something to push you up any motivational mounds on your way to this year’s Pedal on Parliament happening on 29 April, how about the news that air pollution may have caused more than 2,000 deaths in Scotland in a year? It’s enough to make you choke, which if you live in Edinburgh or Glasgow, you’re probably already doing given they have the highest levels of particulate pollution in Scotland at 8.6 and 8.3 respectively. Compare this with 4.3 in the Highlands and just 4.2 in the Western Isles. Reducing traffic reduces pollution. If more people felt safer getting on their bikes, fewer would drive. It’s that simple. «