GenPol + Serlo Team Up to Bust Myths About Consent!

  • March 15th, 2018
  • Blog

Consent is one of the most essential aspects of sex, but there are dozens of misconceptions around the topic that create confusion. A new online course, created by Serlo, a German NGO working in the educational sector, in partnership with our team at GenPol, seeks to eliminate that confusion and establish a clear understanding of consent. The course takes users through the most common myths related to consent, providing an easy-to-understand guide that will help empower everyone to create an open and honest dialogue around consent and to engage in positive, respectful, and fun sex.

The course begins by defining what consent is, citing American sex educator Jaclyn Friedman, who describes consent as a “state” rather than a question – that is, consent is an “open and active dialogue (as opposed to a lecture delivered by a single person).” All partners engaging in any sexual activity need to maintain awareness of the situation and keep in tune with verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate consent – or a lack of consent. Below is a small sample of verbal and nonverbal signs of consent and non-consent (more can be found in the course!).

 

Possible verbal signs of consent Possible verbal signs of NON-consent
yes no
yes maybe
definitely / I’m really sure I am not sure
I know I don’t know

 

Possible nonverbal signs of consent Possible nonverbal signs of NON-consent
Direct eye contact Avoiding eye contact
Initiating sexual activity Not initiating any sexual activity
Pulling someone closer Pushing someone away
Guiding someone’s hand to be touched in a certain place or way Avoiding touch


The Serlo course tackles four areas of consent-related myths, covering the perceived (and stereotypical) differences between men and women, what counts as sexual violence, real sex in real life, and what consent looks like. A few myths busted include…

Women are naturally silent and submissive in bed. Men are naturally loud and dominant.
“Luckily, everyone is different, and all desires vary depending on an individual (which makes the world a much more interesting place!). One cannot and should not make sweeping essentialist generalisations about gender (what a woman is, or what female sexuality is, or what a man is or ‘likes’). Moods and desires are not determined by arbitrarily assigned chromosomes. On the contrary, moods, desires, and preferences are cultivated over time and can change. We must be open to this possibility both when thinking about our own sexuality and that of our partners, however they identify themselves on the gender continuum.”

Assault only happens in dark streets at night. One can only be assaulted by strangers.
“Most cases of assaults today happen in a domestic context, and the assaulter is someone the abused person knew. Too many survivors take years to realise that what they went through (for example, being forced into unwanted sex by an ex-partner) was a form of sexual abuse. Importantly, no abuse or assault is more or less serious or damaging than another, and all survivors need to be taken seriously and deserve the utmost support.”

Sex in real life looks like sex in porn. There is something wrong if it does not. (aka. Sex in porn is a depiction of how good sex looks like)
“Sex in real life takes a wide variety of forms, as human beings (luckily) are all different and very complex. Sexual activities can (and should) be pleasurable, enjoyable and mutually respectful, and may, sometimes, be awkward or emotionally challenging. However, they should never imply violence and/or lack of consent, in which case they fall under the category of sexual assault. Sadly many porns show violent, non-consensual sex, objectify women (treat them as objects for others’ gratification), and fetishise non-white and LGBT+ people. They also show bodies that are rather different from most of the viewers’ and often modified by cosmetic surgery, which tends to increase people’s insecurities.”

Consent is simple: yes means yes and no means no, even when there are strong power differences (i.e. age\class\wealth differences, between a student and a teacher, an employer and employee etc.).
“Consent, like many things in life, is far from simple. Sometimes people are able to clearly articulate a no, which we must respect in all cases. Some other times, however, someone might feel pressured or manipulated into sex because of the power dynamics between them and their partners. These include strong differences in age (even when all people involved are underage), or when one of the partners is in a position of authority (a teacher, an employer, a sport coach, a priest). In this last cases, sexual encounters actually tend to be illegal.”

Even if you feel comfortable with your understanding and appreciation of consent, the course offers helpful advice to help anyone engage in healthier, happier, and more pleasurable sex.

GenPol is now taking its commitment to promote consent education to Italy with two exciting projects, PREVENT and PIÙ SANE . They both aim to promote consent-aware sex and relationship education as well as women’s self-esteem, empowerment and overall mental health. We are currently engaged in the production of digital educational modules in Italian language, differentiated according to age group (12-25), and freeliy accessible online through a brand-new web-site and app. The educational materials will also be promoted nation-wide through a social network campaign, and used and tested locally through a number of pilot projects. Stay tuned!

If your organization is interested in partnering with GenPol on a course or training around gender issues, click here to get in touch.

Kristina Chiappetta
GenPol Marketing Intern

Spotlight on Women in Business: Tales on Moon Lane

  • March 2nd, 2018
  • Blog

As part of GenPol’s Spotlight on Women in Business series, we were lucky enough to be able to interview Tamara  MacFarlane, co-founder of the wonderful, feminist, children’s bookshop Tales on Moon Lane. We talked about #MeToo, resiliance, the trials and tribulations of setting up your own business, feminist writers and the importance of role models for children. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Don’t forget to pre-order a copy of  Tamara’s latest book for 8-12 year olds, coming out in April (it features a fantastic female superhero, after all…)

Photo Credits: Tales on Moon Lane

This year Tales on Moon Lane celebrates its 14th anniversary- congratulations! It must seem like a long time ago now, but what originally inspired you to set up the bookshop?

TMF: It seems incredible that the shop has been going for 14 years. The original inspiration was having my children and realising that there was nowhere in the area where I could take them to buy books!

What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learnt about running your own business in those 14 years? What would your advice be to anyone starting out?

TMF: Resilience. There are so many things in business that are out of your control; along with all of the wonderful things that have happened at Tales, we’ve also had our fair share of knock backs. Learning to roll with the punches, and accept that, in reality, I have very little control, has been learnt the hard way (bouts of chronic anxiety) but it was an essential thing to learn. It was either learn to cope with the uncertainty and remain flexible and open to change, or walk away and get a day job.

My advice to anyone starting out is to remember that a business is just a group of people working together towards a shared goal. Without the people there is no business, so always look after the people that are on your team!

This is perhaps an age-old question, but why is it so important for children to have positive literary role models? Why is it important we don’t underestimate the power of feminist characters in the stories we tell children?

TMF: Over the years of running Tales on Moon Lane, I have become increasingly aware of damaging elements in children’s books. The underlying assumptions and innate ideology contained in many of today’s children’s books is often reinforcing out- dated gender stereotypes. It is essential that we identify the inherent values communicated by our stories and discuss what they are communicating to this generation of children. We are having these conversations on a daily basis at the bookshop. One of the huge advantages of being an independent shop is that we are able to create an integrated range that balances out the representation and roles of the genders.

We need to lead by example, and fictional characters are no different. They do not all need to be heroes, but female characters do need to exist in books, with the same flaws and complexity of character we give male characters. The imbalance in the number of male to female main characters in children’s books is still vast. The fight for equal representation has not been won.

All children need to have characters that they can identify with in their books, challenging systems, asking questions and demonstrating empathy; it is how we are able to experience a world outside of our own street. You frequently hear amongst librarians and teachers that girls will read male main characters, but boys won’t read female main characters. This is in part due to thousands of years of girls being expected to empathise with the male viewpoint without the reverse being expected, but it is also a myth that has become self-fulfilling.

It is as important for boys as it is for girls to have strong female literary role models because these characters, as most characters do, offer chances to break down the concept of ‘other’ that allows us to build up false narratives about anyone that appears different to ourselves, and instead helps us to identify and understand shared humanity.

I notice that quite a few of the core team have a background in teaching, and the need to address the attainment gap of girls in traditionally ‘male’ dominated STEM subjects is something that has been attracting a lot of attention recently. In your opinion, how can we educate the future scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow so that their gender is not a barrier to attainment?

TMF: The girls that we work with through our enterprise days are inventive, imaginative, innovative and able to take initiative – we need to harness this and not send out a message to them that they don’t have anything to offer in these areas. Role models are absolutely essential here and while representations of female scientists and engineers in children’s books alone will not change the landscape, it does help to communicate the concept.

Fortunately, there are now an increasing number of biographies of women scientists coming on to the children’s market.  We need to shout about those role models, to stop tucking women’s role in scientific development out of sight and showcase and celebrate it instead. Toys also have a role to play here. We are having an electric train running around the top of the shelves at the new shop and I asked the shop keeper at the train shop whether he had a figure of a female train driver to go in the engine with the male driver (who was supplied with the train).  The shop keeper said that in 30 years of owning the model train shop, he had never even seen one.

 GenPol recently published a blog on the need to address the glass ceiling in publishing. In your opinion what steps can, and should, the industry be taking to address this?

Primarily, and very simply, proper equal parental leave in the Swedish model is what is needed. Until men and women are able and expected to share their children’s care from the earliest days, this inequality of pay will not go away. The two things are directly and inescapably connected.

The second element is that the publishing industry needs to address the class problem that is endemic within the industry. People are very quick to make assumptions about people based on the way that they speak; this affects both genders.

When I look around publishing, in particular, there is still only one accent that you hear, and it is not the voices of the students that shine on our enterprise days. A system where you get a job because you sound right, rather than your ability to innovate, is a system that has no place in a society striving for equality of opportunity. All children have the right to be readers and the voices and experiences of people from all socio-economic backgrounds are needed within children’s book ranges. This means the industry needs to employ people across a wide range of socio- economic experience.

What have your experiences been working as an all-women organisation? Does gender continue to play a role in the way we do business today?

It is interesting that we are currently an all-women organisation, I hadn’t really thought about it until you pointed it out. We have, over the years, had men on the team but we very rarely have job applications from men.

I think that the values that we share as a team in terms of work ethic, the level of importance of quality of life, and enjoyable working life over high salaries etc. are very much more conducive to supporting one another and having a shared vision of what we are trying to achieve. We are ambitious for the change that we might be able to create together. The team is much greater than the sum of its parts and we are able to do so much more when we are working collaboratively, both in terms of good business and social change.

The #MeToo and #Timesup movement seem (we hope) to be constituting a profound shift in working and employment cultures across a range of industries and continents. What would your hopes be for this generation of women, who will now be taking their first steps in to the world of work on the back of these movements?

I would encourage girls going into the workplace today to believe that the system that exists is not the best or only system that could be. I hope that they will have the confidence to see that if there is a need for change that they have the ability to create it.

The number of women at the top of FTSE 100 companies is endlessly quoted, but is that necessarily a definition of success for women? Would a better measure not be the number of women running their own companies, on their own terms, with their own definition of success, i.e. being able to pay their own bills, feel a sense of purpose and have a life outside of work.

Finally, what are you reading currently? Why?

Fantastically gifted women who changed the world – because I grew up not knowing about all the female scientists, mathematicians, artists, sportswomen and political activists that changed how we live and I am hungry to learn more about them. Each short biography is rewiring my brain and reshaping my view of history, and therefore of the present and of the future.

I am reading a stunning new children’s book of biographies called Young, Gifted and Black. As with women’s biographies for children, there have been very few children’s books celebrating the achievements of people from a range of ethnicities. It is vital to our understanding of the world around us that the achievements of all people are celebrated. The achievements of one particular group of society should not be valued more highly than others just because that group tends to run the publishing industry.

Diversify by June Sarpong – this well researched book focuses on the ways that we allbenefit from greater diversity and looks at the problems that arise from a lack of integration. I have given a copy of this book to every member of the team as it articulates what we are trying to do with the new community interest company and the reasons for doing it, with great clarity.

Ellen Davis-Walker
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

Consent beyond the classroom: why we are responding to the Department For Education’s call for evidence.

  • February 20th, 2018
  • Blog

For many of us, memories of SRE (Sex and Relationship Education) are fleeting at best, and painfully awkward at worst. When I was in Year 8 (12/13) my school decided to solicit the help of a local sexual health charity to supplement their curriculum. Volunteers would dutifully reverse a large lilac bus (which, if my memory serves correctly, was filled almost entirely with cotton wool and prosthetic genitals) in to our school playground once a term. We would be ushered into a darkened classroom and sit through a PowerPoint presentation on STI symptoms which always made a nice change from double maths, before being loaded on to the bus and offered a free pregnancy test. We would troop off when the bell rang, bolstered by the perennial fear of Chlamydia and the knowledge that we could access emergency contraception in the car park of the local shopping centre every Wednesday (at a ‘discreet’ pop up clinic next to some bins, just in case you were wondering).

Whilst my school’s stance now makes excellent food for amusing party anecdotes and nostalgic reminiscing, I am all too painfully aware of how privileged we were to have access to any form of structured education at all. Prior to the passing of a government bill in 2017, teaching of SRE was not compulsory in the UK, and provision for its implementation remained at the discretion of  individual schools. As the government has set a deadline of September 2019 for the national implementation of a full SRE curriculum, discussions surrounding the direction it will take, and the content it will promote, are naturally rife. The Department for Education’s recent call for evidence on the necessity of teaching SRE at both primary and secondary level, felt symptomatic of a shift in education culture, and of wider dialogues surrounding questions of consent and survivor empowerment in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

At GenPol we care very deeply about sexuality education. We are only too aware that the issue of SRE teaching demands a considered and holistic approach because of its inherently personal nature. The government’s new proposed curriculum will need to address some fairly gigantic gaps that, sadly, no number of lilac buses can fill. We see consent-focused, intersectional sex and relationship education as a vital tool in the combat to end violence against women and girls and towards the LGBTQ+ community. It is for that reason that we have consecrated so much of our working time (including a separate research program and a very successful conference last summer) to researching the sort of forms a new SRE curriculum could take. Thursday the 1st of March will also mark the launch of GenPol’s first policy paper on the topic of sex and relationship provisions, where we will put forward a number of recommendations about directions curriculum reform should take.

It is for these reasons (and countless personal ones) that the GenPol team decided to respond to the Department For Education’s call. Our recommendations touched on a number of issues surrounding the implementation of an SRE curriculum, notably that:

– SRE should be informed by a sex-positive ethos, including a focus on reproductive sexual rights and the complexities of sexual pleasure. This means providing honest, accurate and empowering information regarding sex and sexuality, as well as bodies, gender, contraception and of course STDs (graphic PowerPoints optional, everyone!)

-Teaching needs to actively incorporate the concept of sexual consent- then and only then will it help us to end a culture of violence and abuse. The new curriculum should incorporate conscious attempts to highlight (and dismantle) harmful gender stereotypes, explicitly teaching women that their needs are equal to those of men’s and inviting all students to reflect on the risks associated with oppressive gendered norms.

– Take into account the needs of LGBT+ community and other culturally marginalised groups. This is a gap we must fill urgently: LGBT+ themes should be integrated in classroom discussions and textbooks, and teachers should be trained to intervene in discriminatory situations.

– Curricula need to take a more intersectional approach. This entails addressing the ways in which people of colour and disabled people are too often excluded form conversations surrounding sexuality education. They should address, with conscious sensitivity, questions of sexual assault, fetishism and sexual stereotyping, and include voices of non-white, religiously and culturally diverse people. GenPol insists on the inclusion of strategies to support survivors of sexual assault, which should unequivocally challenge the insidious culture of victim-blaming and allow survivors to feel safe in the class-room.

-We also strongly recommend that national RSE curricula and individual schools’ programmes should be publicly available online, and schools’ personnel should be trained to address parents’ queries, in order to promote a culture of transparency and equality.

It is important to stress that implanting a positive, empowering SRE curricula for our young people is an ongoing task, that will require ongoing cooperation between schools, practitioners, researchers and consultants. Memories of teachers, slideshows, buses and core values transmitted between the four walls of the classroom are for life, and do not stop when the school bell rings out at the end of the day. GenPol would therefore like to warmly invite all those who wish to get involved in our other forthcoming research and advocacy initiatives on this topic to please get in touch (all contact information can be found on our site).

Ellen Davis-Walker
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

Juggle Jobs Recruiting – ‘having it all’ thanks to flexible work

  • January 19th, 2018
  • Blog

Frustrated with the lack of women in senior level positions, former recruiter Romanie Thomas founded Juggle Jobs, an online platform matching businesses with professionals looking for flex time employment. With the majority of these professional platform users being women, Juggle Jobs contributes to closing the gender pay- and power gaps.

 After a decade in recruitment, Romanie Thomas experienced ongoing frustration regarding a recurring request from her clients: More and more clients, especially in technology and other stereotypically “male” fields, were looking to increase the number of women in their senior level positions, and were hence requesting shortlists of qualified female professionals. At first, Romanie accepted that this task would always pose a challenge to recruiters.

Keen to make a more long-lasting contribution to gender equality, however, Romanie started to explore the reasons for the lack of available women. It became evident that, due to the disproportionate amount of care work women still engage in, most women were looking for flexible working arrangements. Unfortunately, this used to be largely incompatible with senior positions. In fact, employment data shows that this dynamic is one of the main reasons for the persisting gender pay gap.

Startled by the situation, Romanie set out to find a solution as, she explains, women should in fact hold 50% of all business leadership positions. In conversation with her clients, she found out that a lot of firms were indeed interested in reviewing workplace policies and practices in order to retain qualified women and to recruit more diverse teams.

Flexible working

 The solution to the companies’ requests for more women in senior positions seemed to be to offer more flexible working schedules that would facilitate the combination of work- and family life. Accordingly, Romanie founded Juggle Jobs, a recruitment platform focused on flexible working. The online platform matches businesses with mid- to senior-level professionals who would like to work on a flexible basis.

Historically, flexible working has meant part-time work. Juggle Jobs defines it in broader terms: having the freedom to set your own schedule. Specifically, they offer three types of flexible working options: Part-time, i.e. 2-4 days per week, usually incorporating working from home (“tele-working”), Full time with flex hours, i.e. 5 days per week with flexibility to arrive or leave early or late, and Portfolio Style, i.e. 1-4 days per month, usually on-site.

Another popular type of flexible work is job-sharing. Under “normal” part-time, employees partially fill one post each within an organisation. Job-sharing means that two employees share the same post (50% each). The practical implications of this include the concerned employees sharing working space and equipment, and their working time not overlapping. Flexible working arrangement might also include leave arrangements, such as generous parental or family leave.

Dr Heejung Chung, reader of sociology and social policy at the University of Kent, confirms that Romanie’s approach is likely to tackle gender-related workplace issues such as the gender pay gap. In her research, she found that women who were able to use flexible working options were only half as likely to reduce their working hours after the birth of their child. Indeed, if given flexible working options many women would stay in work and maintain their hours and pay after having children.

Juggle Jobs

 Importantly though, Juggle Jobs does not only focus on women. “90% of flexible working requests come from women which is why we are geared towards women”, Romanie explains, “but there is an increasing number of men who would also like to work more flexibly, often to spend more time with their families.” Indeed, according to the 2017 Modern Families Index report, almost 70% of men would like to work more flexibly, and 47% say they would like a less stressful job, reflecting the challenge they face in achieving a good work-life balance. It seems like women’s more urgent request for more flexible workplaces is only a driving force to an employment landscape undergoing fundamental changes as a whole.

Next to recruitment, Juggle Jobs also offers support and guidance to companies that are transitioning to more flexible workplace practices as “the majority of companies are open to the idea of flexible working, but struggle with the implementation”. Juggle Jobs consults mainly organizations in the professional services: law, accounting, and management consulting firms. Their clients are increasingly asking for a more diverse workforce, and their response is to offer more flexible workplace options. Romanie needs her clients to be committed to the cause though: “We only work with companies who support the idea, and not companies who would just like to employ one token flexible worker.”

Impact on Employees

The benefits of flexible working seem to be plenty both for employer and employee. Whilst employers attract and retain a larger and more diverse pool of qualified workers, employees are given an option to combine care responsibilities and a career. Overall, the increased freedom resulting from more flexibility has been found to increase workers’ productivity.

Romanie admits that there might also be downsides to flexible working: “It might sometimes get a little lonely, and there is still stigma surrounding flex-workers.” Nevertheless, the demand for more flexible jobs is constantly increasing. Juggle Jobs has experiences a consistent growth of 30% in monthly revenue, and has been listed as recruiter.com’s top 10 tech start-ups globally. Clients, both female and male, seem overwhelmingly satisfied by the sudden possibility of “having it all”: “Flexible working does have its challenges but getting it right means that I was able to work at a senior position for an exciting company whilst still spending time with my family” (Natasha Natt, lawyer).

Find out more and join Juggle today: https://www.juggle.jobs/

Antonia Sudkämper
Research Associate

Women in publishing: addressing the glass ceiling

  • January 2nd, 2018
  • Blog

Industry data averages- a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Publishing is often viewed as a rare example of an industry dominated by women.

A 2015 survey with 3,415 respondents across 8 review journals and 34 publishers of different sizes in the US showed that women make up 78.2% of the industry overall (Diversity Baseline Survey from Lee & Low Books). A smaller survey, with 425 respondents, published around the same time, estimated that 77% of the publishing working force in the UK is composed of women (Publishing Industry Salary Survey from Publishers Weekly).

Interestingly however, a different story emerges when breaking down the data by department. While women dominate in editorial departments with 84% representation, this trend dies out at a higher level (only 59% of women occupy executive positions). By inspecting the data further, we find only 2 women CEOs across the top 30 major publishers listed in the Publishers Weekly “The World’s 54 Largest Publishers, 2017”. This trend has been consolidated by recent management changes in large corporate publishers, where women CEOs are being replaced by men. Such statistics translate into an embarrassing pay gap for the industry where men are earning on average 15.7% more than women (2017 bookcareers.com Salary Survey for the UK). The pay gap is a reflection of the fact that men in the industry tend to occupy more senior roles than women, as salaries are roughly the same for men and women with similar roles.

It is intriguing that the pattern of women dominance at the editorial level is not replicated in positi power, even though women are the backbone of the industry. This trend has been also been highlighted by Lee & Low Books as symptomatic of a reality where ‘males still ascend to positions of power more often, even in female-dominated industries’.

The glass ceiling for women in the publishing

The reasons keeping women from reaching the top of the publishing industry are not clear-cut, however some facts do prevail. Firstly, and perhaps more obviously, women still do not have sufficient support to balance career progress and caring responsibilities. This issue not only holds off (or stops) a woman’s career, but can also generate (un)conscious bias from employers in hiring and/or promoting women. While this is a problem across several industries, it is surprising that the move towards digital tools seen in publishing has not been accompanied by a reform in the working environment, which remains very office-centred. Changes are long overdue and flexibility is absolutely vital for women to thrive in the industry.

Other arguments for explaining the disparity in gender statistics between editorial and executive departments have focused on the inner workings of the publishing industry. Specifically, with the corporatization of publishing, management roles have become increasingly finance-oriented, meaning that the skills from editorial departments are not necessarily transferrable to a management role. However, even if we ignore the pool of talented women driving the industry from below, it is hard to justify the fact that there are only 2 women CEOs across 30 key corporate publishers. Are women less capable to make executive decisions? Do women lack the confidence to pursue such roles?

This does not seem to be the case in independent publishing, which is blooming with female leaders setting up their own publishing houses. In addition, major corporate publishing houses have seen a number of women taking leading roles back in the 50s with Helen Meyer, as President of Dell Publishing, and Phyllis Grann, as President and CEO of Penguin Putnam, and then again in the 90s with Marjorie Scardino, appointed CEO of Pearson, and Jane Friedman, the first and only Global CEO of HarperCollins. Where are the women leaders in corporate publishing now? To answer this question, the publishing industry can no longer sit comfortably on its gender averages and needs to take a long, hard look at its own glass ceiling.

More data to assess the publishing industry is required

The data described above might only be the tip of the iceberg. Publishing is made of several sectors, which means that averages are not necessarily representative of the industry. For example, in scholarly publishing women are underrepresented across all stages of the publication process with only 37% as authors, 28% as editors and 26% as peer reviewers, as reported in Helmer et al. 2015 (https://elifesciences.org/articles/21718). This is symptomatic of a bigger global issue in fields such as science, in which only 28% of researchers are women (UNESCO Science Report, Towards 2030). In some sectors of book publishing, women authors have been also been shown to be underrepresented (2016 VIDA count) and have faced gender barriers, famously exemplified by Joanne Rolling who was encouraged by her editor to use the acronym J. K. to hide her gender identity. Contrastingly, women are overrepresented in sectors such as children’s books, which has attracted a number of criticisms, namely that this gender imbalance leads to a predominance of children’s books tailored for girls. This has been correlated with the lack of interest that young boys seem to have when it comes to reading (Jonathan Emmett’s blog Cool not Cute and Porter Anderson’s post here).

This glimpse of data makes it clear that the discussion of gender balance in publishing is far from over and additional statistics are required to understand where the industry needs to be reformed. Importantly, these changes will need to address diversity issues that go way beyond gender. Even though this post specifically addresses women in publishing, data has shown that the publishing industry suffers from a massive diversity problem in terms of race, sexual orientation and disability. Lee & Low reported that 80% of publishing staff are white, 88.2% heterosexual and 7.6% identify as having a disability. The implications of these statistics in terms of the books that get published calls for a major reform of the industry, and a need to chip away at a firmly-established glass ceiling.

Carolina Feijao
Research Associate

Supporting women in business: Spotlight on AmaElla

  • December 18th, 2017
  • Blog

Shining a light on women in business

At GenPol we are committed to backing female entrepreneurs, and sharing success stories of women in business. In the run up to Christmas we feel it is more important than ever to give a platform to women striving to make the business world a fairer and more ethical place, especially when we are looking to get our stockings filled, and New Year’s resolutions drawn up.  To kick-start the series, we want to introduce AmaElla  an ethical, environmentally sustainable lingerie brand that is close to our hearts. It’s co-run by one of our non-executive directors, Lara, and her friend and now business partner, Julie.

AmaElla is a social enterprise whose mission is to encourage ethical behaviour in fashion through sustainable and ethical sourcing. Their core values are of quality, sustainability, customer centricity, and honesty. As a reaction to the exploitation of factory workers, suppliers and consumers, Lara and Julie have created a brand where people and the planet are at the heart of what they do. Frustrated by how difficult it was to find attractive lingerie made from organic cotton, the pair took it upon themselves to turn cotton “from drab to fab”.

You can sleep well at night

By choosing AmaElla lingerie and nightwear the idea is that you can sleep well at night, both thanks to the purity of the fabric on the skin—free from toxic chemicals—but also in the knowledge that the items you are wearing have been responsibly sourced.

Central to AmaElla‘s mission is the knowledge that our skin is our largest organ and taking good care of it will benefit our health.Toxic chemicals on our clothes have been associated with problems in women’s hormonal health and even with increasing the likelihood of developing breast cancer. As a result, AmaElla only uses certified organic cotton and materials free from toxic chemicals. Every material has been tested for harmful substances by independent organisations such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).

Moreover, as a social enterprise, AmaElla meets the social criteria based on the key norms of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UN guiding principles, including: traceability of production, prohibition of child labour and slavery, the living wage, respecting women’s rights and ensuring all employees are treated with respect and dignity. These are values that are key to making the working world a fairer and more equal environment, and that we, at GenPol, strive to promote and uphold in our own research and consulting services.

All items are made by women who are paid a living wage and whose working conditions are closely monitored to ensure they are treated fairly and respectfully.

They don’t cost the earth

While AmaElla’s prices may be higher than many high street brands to ensure ethical integrity and quality, AmaElla pride themselves on not literally costing the earth. Fashion is, after all, the second most polluting industry in the world— second only to oil—and non-organic/conventional cotton is the dirtiest crop out there. However, despite its environmental impact, non-organic cotton is one of the most commonly used natural fibres, in nearly 40% of our clothing and using 25% of all fertilisers globally.

AmaElla’s commitment to using 100% organic cotton means that its organic farming uses traditional and new scientific knowledge to grow crops in a way that develops healthy, fertile soil, conserves biodiversity and protects natural resources, minimising the use of non-renewable and off-farm inputs.

Ultimately, by selecting the finest organic cotton, premium trims, and attractive prints, AmaElla ensures that its lingerie and nightwear line is anything but ordinary. Created with the consumer in mind it wants women to feel bold, healthy, beautiful and confident in their skin

A Fantastic Festive Offer!

In a bid to support AmaElla’s great work, we are running a special pre-Christmas offer! From the 18th to the 22nd of December AmaElla are kindly offering of a 15% discount off the whole range to any shoppers who used the code ‘GenPol17’. Simply like our Facebook page, and head over to their online shop (you will be asked to provide the code at the checkout).  All of us at GenPol are proud to support and shine a spotlight on the incredible work being done by these women, and we wish them (and you) a very happy Christmas!

Emmanuela Wroth
Research Associate

Are powerful women the answer to inequality?

  • December 11th, 2017
  • Blog

Earlier this year, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) released its 2017 Gender Equality Index. One of its more interesting findings (and there were many, as GenPol’s Antonia Sudkämper noted in her recent blog) was that in nearly all Member States, “the main driver of progress was improved balance in decision making”. In short: getting more women into power is important to improving women’s lives.

Why does having female decision-makers matter? Because women are hurt when we are not on an equal footing with men in the debating chamber, the meeting room, or the boardroom. Men are making decisions about women’s bodies, about our access to welfare, about whether we can have children, about whether we can not have children, about medical research that solely concerns us, about the media that we consume. Giving men decision making power over women feeds patriarchal structures. The extreme consequences of these structures are discrimination and violence against women: crimes of sexual violence stem from a person’s determination to exercise power over another and society currently dictates that one group (men) have more power than another (women). This unequal distribution of power needs addressing urgently.

The EIGE Index suggests that one solution is to ensure that more women are involved in all manner of decision-making processes. Approached logically, if more women occupy political posts, then legislation which adversely affects women is less likely to be passed. If more mothers are in management positions, then the companies they influence are more likely to have parental leave and childcare policies favourable to women. If more women are driving the content of our mainstream media outlets, then we are more likely to hear diverse perspectives in our news analysis. The importance of representation is well documented, and powerful women are essential to creating societies that serve the interests of women, as well as men.

EIGE reports that the gender gap in employment is most pronounced across the EU in heterosexual partnerships. This is in part because women still bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities in society at large and thus are often the partner, in a heterosexual couple, to pull back professionally and take up the caregiving mantle. Would an increase of women in middle and senior management change this, by advocating for solutions for those women who wish to simultaneously become parents and pursue professional advancement? History tells us that it is certainly not men who will mobilise to pursue necessary workplace changes such as proper parental leave, adequate childcare, and teleworking facilities.

Even when women are present in the workforce, we need to consider where those women are. In the UK, women make up over 40% of those who work in the media, according to EIGE. These women, however, are mainly concentrated in lower grade positions, with lower pay and little influence (we saw this year just how stark that inequality is with the BBC pay scandal). Indeed, across Europe 67% of journalism graduates are women, yet just 14% of media CEOs are women. This means that crucial national conversations about politics, business, technology, and culture are shaped by men (the consequences of which are here clearly outlined).

Rank dynamics shine a further spotlight on the influence of men and their opinions in our lives. Men are higher up in the patriarchal rank: theirs are the voices of authority and responsibility, and it is the norm to prioritise their voices and to trust their expertise and testimony above women’s. This perception can only change if women’s voices are heard across public life, which can be achieved through elevating women to decision-making and influential roles.

All of the above, however, require powerful women to work in the interests of other women. Having women CEOs, politicians, and leading civil society actors will not make the world a better place for women if access to opportunity does not trickle down the hierarchy. Poland and Germany, for example, are both countries led by women and yet they rank below the average score for EU Member States in the EIGE Index. Indeed, in all six categories used to assess equality (Work, Money, Power, Time, Knowledge, and Health) Poland ranks below the EU average, as does Germany in three of those categories. Evidently one woman in a prominent political position cannot fix a country’s gender inequality problems, but women in power have the opportunity (and, I would argue, the responsibility) to empower other women and to set the direction for feminist policy reform across many areas of society. The Ivanka Trumps of this world tilt the gender balance scales simply by being women in power, but their presence alone does not help women as a social category, particularly those who are not white and upper-middle class. Given the stark inequalities women still face as an oppressed class of people today, and the intersecting oppressions faced by women of colour, lower-class women, and homo- or bisexual women, those with access to positions of power need to use their privilege to improve the lot of all women if patriarchal power structures are ever to be dismantled.

Women from diverse backgrounds need access to power en masse in order to move towards equality. As Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, notes, this is not about making women more like men, but “about creating an environment where both sexes can have equal choices and fully participate in social, work and family life.”

When women are not in power we cannot shape our own lives or the national narratives which govern us. The EIGE Index and its findings are pertinent, but we must also work to ensure that women who want to help women are given access to opportunity, and that all women can gain decision-making power so that all women benefit from the resulting progress

Nathalie Greenfield
Research Associate

Three words, Two acronyms, One goal: Introducing PIÙ SANE and PREVENT

  • November 16th, 2017
  • Blog

(Picture Credits: Elyssa Rider)

Hot on the heels of our recent collaboration with German NGO Serlo to create an online course on consent  GenPol is extending its successful practices and research to Italy—one of the few European countries where sexual education is still not compulsory—with two exciting sister projects: PREVENT and PIÙ SANE.

PREVENT is an acronym for ‘PREventing Violence by Educating through New Technologies’ and ‘PIÙ SANE’, which means ‘healthier’ in Italian, stands for ‘Promoting, Teaching, Uniting, Health and Affectivity in Education’ (although its quality as an acronym is lost in translation). Both projects are united by the same aim: fighting sexual violence through education. More specifically, the feminine gendering of ‘PIÙ SANE’ points to both projects’ primary focus: tackling sexual violence against adolescent girls, “whose impact is particularly harmful since it may lead to impaired mental health, social functioning, and neurodevelopment.”

However, while our work aims to empower and educate women and girls as a means to tackling sexual and gender based violence, it will not be gender segregated and similarly aims to tackle toxic masculinity and open up conversations about the ways in which gender is socially constructed.

PREVENT and PIÙ SANE’s aims are to pursue specific forms of sex and relationship education, meant to promote women’s mental health and prevent social anxiety and other issues stemming from low self-esteem, as well as the difficulty to express one’s needs. The focus is primarily on the notion of consent, teaching how to express it, recognise it and always seek it in every single moment of a romantic or sexual relationship. The projects look to empower all, and especially young women, to set boundaries, speak out, respect and cherish not only others but first of all themselves.

Targeted specifically at the 12–25 age bracket, the idea is to make these educational materials as user-friendly, engaging and accessible as possible to our young, digitally-advanced audience. PREVENT and PIÙ SANE will thus be composed of multi-faceted digital educational modules, differentiated according to age group, including written materials, illustrations, videos, podcasts, interactive games and exercises. The materials will be freely accessible online through a brand-new website with its own mobile app. These materials will be promoted nationwide, across Italy, through a social media campaign (from Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and Youtube), ensuring maximal visibility amongst our target young age group. Guidelines and web-training will be created, additionally, to allow different categories of educators and teachers to use the materials in their own activities. As well as their online presence, the materials will be used and tested offline through a number of pilot projects across various Italian regions (Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Lazio and Campania).

GenPol will play a central role in the creation and distribution of digital modules, web-platforms and off-line pilot projects. We hope to launch the projects in June 2018, with a view to running them for 18 months. All the while GenPol will monitor  and evaluate its results and measure their impact and reach, with a view to developing future follow up projects, expansions and collaborations.

 Having successfully collaborated with organisations such as the aforementioned Serlo in Germany (an NGO working in the educational sector), and with Falling Book in Italy (a cultural association that uses gender education to tackle violence against women), GenPol is extending its work both within Italy and across Europe. The aim is to extend and build upon the work of PREVENT and PIÙ SANE, as well as GenPol’s work with Serlo, to create a multilingual, pan-European web-platform for consent education. In addition to the pilot projects across Italy, we are also setting up off-line projects across Europe, with the purpose of training and supporting local staff from countries as diverse as the UK, Romania, Poland, Malta, Germany and Ireland in the use of our platform in their own activities.

For now, if you would like a taster of what is to come, check-out our web-platform if you have not done so already. Please also  get in touch if you are engaged in any form of SRE or consent education, and might be interested in sharing good practices or future collaborations. Lastly—but certainly not least—stay tuned for the launch of PREVENT and PIÙ SANE in the new year.

Emmanuela Wroth
Research Associate

Progress, but slow: reflections on the 2017 Gender Equality Index

  • November 4th, 2017
  • Blog

This year, I was fortunate to attend the Gender Equality Index 2017 conference. The Gender Equality Index is a tool to measure the progress of gender equality in the EU, developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). The Index has six core domains – work, money, knowledge, time, power and health – and two satellite domains: violence against women and intersecting inequalities. It gives more visibility to areas that need improvement and ultimately supports policy makers to design more effective gender equality measures. The results are updated and revealed every two years at an international conference.

Since the last index, the score has improved by 4 points and now lies at 66.2 points out of 100. The top performing country is Sweden with a score of 82.6, while Greece dropped to the bottom with 50 points. Italy recorded the biggest improvement. Overall, although the majority of Member States improved their overall scores from 2005 to now, nearly two thirds of them fall below the EU-28 average score.

A few things struck me as particularly noteworthy. Firstly, progress is way too slow. We cannot afford to miss out on women’s skills in the workplace for the next decades, and cannot afford men to suffer from the health consequences of toxic masculinity, either. We need to do better as soon as possible. Secondly, we often assume that we are continuously moving forward, but cannot take this for granted. We will only make progress if we constantly push for the cause. I was struck by low scores in some of the economically strong member states who are often praised for their well-functioning politics. Specifically, my own country Germany scored disappointingly low on many dimensions. As Ghandi put it, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Let us raise all countries to higher standards, and let us no longer accept that a society functions well only for half of the population.

In light of this, GenPol’s work (both past and forthcoming) feels all the more urgent, professionally and personally. Serlo, for instance, is a grassroots organization for education on sexuality and gender equality that originates in Germany but is gradually being expanded to other countries and languages. The platform’s aim is to enable personalized learning and to provide high quality educational resources free of charge. Similarly, the Italian organizations PREVENT and PIÙ SANE both aim to promote consent-aware sex and relationship education in Italy, as well as women’s self-esteem, empowerment and overall mental health. Considering the gender equality index dimension “violence against women” the Italian organisation Non Una di Meno might play a pivotal role in fostering increased scores. This network of feminist activists came together ahead of the planned ‘women’s strike’ for the 2017 International Women’s Day with a specific focus on the national problem of violence against women.

We must not underestimate the impact that these small organisations scattered across Europe might have on gender equality. By fuelling ideas and continuously pushing for change they might make fundamental contributions to an increase in the gender equality index scores. Non Una di Meno, for instance, vehemently pushes for cultural change to key areas such as education, legislation, media, and social support. Moreover, they make hands-on suggestion as to how to achieve this change (one of their latest projects concentrates on the revision of school books to remove gender stereotypes, for example).

Gatherings like the gender equality index conference certainly present a valuable meeting point for policy makers and activists with an interest in gender equality, and might function as an incubator for future initiatives across Europe. Indeed, the wealth of feminists from all over Europe was truly inspiring. We listened to Åsa Regnér, Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality, who stated that we owe little girls that they will have the same chances as boys, and to Tiina Astola, Director-General, Directorate-General for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality at the European Commission, who pointed out that gender equality is not necessarily a linear process. And finally, Frans Timmermans, First Vice President at the European Commission, who closed the conference with a fantastic speech full of determination and encouragement to create a better future – an excellent example of a male ally. With an audience just as knowledgeable as the speakers, interesting discussions unfolded throughout the day. The speakers and the audience agreed that gender equality will be achieved through political decisions, allocation of resources, and a constant fight in public debates.

I am convinced that grass-root organizations, and think tanks such as GenPol will have an important role to play in these, and ultimately in improving the statistics for the Gender Equality Index 2019.

Antonia Sudkämper
Research Associate

A shorter version of this piece originally appeared on: https://www.antoniasudkaemper.com/2017/10/13/progress-but-slow-gender-equality-index/

SRE provision in Europe: inconsistent, incomplete, but indispensable

  • October 20th, 2017
  • Blog

What do sex education and The Great British Bake Off have in common? They can both make us cringe, they can both teach us new concepts, but, most importantly, they can both be axed in a moment by the powers that be, leaving us with something vital to our livelihoods missing.

Unlike the Bake Off, leaving young people without sex and relationships education (SRE) can have serious societal implications. To quote the International Planned Parenthood Federation, “comprehensive sexuality education seeks to equip young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need to determine and enjoy their sexuality – physically and emotionally, individually and in relationships.” Comprehensive SRE, thus, recognises young people as sexual beings, gives them the opportunity to acquire essential life skills, and helps them to develop positive attitudes and values. Without classroom-based provision of such education, young people’s access to information on healthy relationships, pleasure, and sexuality can be warped or completely absent.

Reflecting its importance, SRE in some form is currently mandatory by law in 20 of the 28 EU Member States. Only Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and the UK do not count sex education among compulsory curriculum subjects (though the UK is in the process of making SRE a mandatory part of the national curriculum). However, mandatory inclusion of SRE in the curriculum is no guarantee of its quality, and the methods and actors involved account for a wide variation in sex education provision across the continent.

One of the most noticeable variations between Member States concerns the focus of SRE lessons. Most countries see sex education as an appropriate means of teaching young people about the biological elements of sex, and as a preventative measure to combat unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. This preventative focus (sometimes called ‘negative’ sex education due to its concentration on the risks of sexual activity) forms the baseline for much SRE content. In most of the countries in which SRE is taught, the subject is time-tabled into biology lessons and taught by a biology teacher, which indicates that its primary aim is to cover physical and reproductive bases.

Some European countries have built on this biological focus to teach the relational and social aspects of sexuality. The Nordic and Benelux countries, in particular, promote this more comprehensive approach to SRE, going beyond a mechanistic coverage of biological facts to deal with the psychosocial aspects of sexuality. Where this is the case, as in Sweden for example, SRE tends to be taught as a separate curriculum subject and can involve the input of actors external to the education system (such as NGOs) in subject delivery. The involvement of NGOs in SRE provision often signals a more interactive approach to sex education and can include activities such as sexual health seminars (Sweden), sexual health campaigns (the UK) and counselling (Germany). Research has shown that whilst formal, teacher-led learning remains common, young people have a preference for a more interactive approach, and sex education has been proven to be more effective and more comprehensive when it establishes links with local sexual health services.

So why does the legal status, content, and delivery of SRE vary between different Member States? Firstly, the realities of sex education in financial, legal and pedagogical terms are shaped by the social and political views of individual countries, which diverge greatly. SRE provision can change as political actors and their priorities change, and the funds needed for training teachers, involving external actors, and investing in resources can fluctuate depending on the political leadership of individual Ministries of Education, as can the pedagogical aims of sex education. The government department in which SRE is housed often reflects a country’s approach to the topic: in the Czech Republic, SRE is coordinated by the Ministries of Education and of Youth and Sports, demonstrating an emphasis on youth development, and in Finland, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is involved, bringing the aforementioned psychosocial and components to the fore, along with emotional health.

Attitudes to sex and to young people’s sexuality are another important factor influencing SRE provision. Socially and religiously conservative countries, such as Hungary or Slovakia, tend to adopt a risk-emphasising negative approach, without providing much space in young people’s education for discussions surrounding sexual orientation, pleasure, or healthy intimacy. Indeed, SRE in Catholic Slovakia adopts a religious approach: the focus is on marriage and parenthood, and it can be taught by religious leaders as part of religious education. Comparing the terminology used to refer to SRE in different Member States interestingly betrays their difference in ideological focus and social attitude. For example, the recent campaigns in the UK to make ‘Sex and Relationships Education’ a mandatory part of the curriculum demonstrate a desire to go beyond biology and include relational components in the teaching of this subject, whereas the labelling of sex education as ‘Family Life Education’ in some post-Soviet countries, including Poland, reflects a focus on reproduction and social structure, and does not address sexual rights or pleasure.

 

Further, irrespective of whether or not SRE is mandatory, the quality and content of SRE in any given Member State is nationally inconsistent. Factors such as the location and type of school (urban or rural area; state or private sector), the teacher (experience and personal views), the local health services involved, and the support of parents and local actors, all have an impact on what children and young adults are taught about sex and relationships.

 

What is the effect of such disparity in SRE provision across the EU, then? Though difficult to quantify, there are clear links to be made between societal attitudes to gender discrimination, and non-comprehensive or non-existent SRE. The patriarchal power structures on which European societies are built are challenged by education which encourages young women to see themselves as equals to men in sex and in relationships, and which encourage young men and women to engage with emotional and relational issues. Attitudes to violence against women are a case in point: marital rape, for example, is not criminalised in either Hungary or Slovakia which have, as mentioned above, biological, risk-focussed SRE. If young people are not educated (in or out of the classroom) on what egalitarian, healthy relationships look like, then inequality, harassment and even violence become less easily recognisable as wrong.

Outsde of the classroom, young people turn to the mainstream media and the internet (where porn is easily accessible) to learn about sex and relationships. Given the patriarchal norms and harmful gender roles broadly perpetuated by these institutions, comprehensive SRE can be very helpful in providing a counter balance to their influences. Sex education programmes should be made mandatory in all countries, and should be broadened beyond a purely public health function, to be holistic in scope; the opportunities provided by relational and psychosocial SRE provision to tackle gender inequality on many levels are too great to ignore. Like the Bake Off, our access to comprehensive SRE might be out of our hands, but unlike GBBO it is far too important to social progression for us to try and live without.

Nathalie Greenfield
Research Associate

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