Letter to the editor: why do men write in more than women?

John Humphreys asked on this morning’s Radio 4 Today programme, why don’t women write letters to newspapers?

He asked the question after it was revealed that Professor in Journalism, Linda Clarke, of Westminster University revealed a startling statistic. As she was catching up on some back issues of newspapers she decided to carry out an audit over a three week period (not including weekends) of 115 letters published in newspapers. She found that just three were written by women and two of those were co-authored by a man.

As I revealed earlier this week how female politicians in newspapers are negatively portrayed, so women’s opinions are also marginalised.

Yvonne Roberts, chief leader writer of the Observer reminded us during the interview this morning that the playwright Arthur Miller once said that a good newspaper is the nation talking to itself.

Roberts made a serious point which is that letters pages are important historical documents. They give social, and cultural context to the social, political and economic issues of the day and. Such letters make history, and if the female voice is missing then you get a skewed view of the popular history that’s being created.

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Women Continue to be Negatively Portrayed in the Media

Female politicians are portrayed more negatively than male colleagues, new research has found.

I find it deeply concerning and rather astonishing that the media still present women so negatively and do so with little consideration of the consequences . It’s hardly surprising that women don’t feel particularly encouraged to participate in the political process and feel totally alienated as a result.

The researchers from Bournemouth University and Leeds Trinity University suggested that women receive less favourable coverage than men because it is assumed that men stand for, and represent, the whole population.

However, it’s not only within the press that we find consistent negative representations of women. Women in many different areas of public life are regularly attacked in some of the most abhorrent ways on social media. It is well documented that ‘internet trolls’, as they are known, use abusive and misogynistic language and threaten women who dare to give their opinion. There have been some high profile cases recently which thankfully resulted in convictions.

One of the researchers, Dr Heather Savigny summed up her findings rather well and said the result of such negative coverage meant women voters were both disengaged and left feeling un represented in Parliament, “the invidious trend affects the democratic process, whereby women voters feel unrepresented in Parliament and turn away from political engagement,” she said.

The researchers suggested a move towards print journalists being more conscious of including women in media coverage and reflect on how they present women. Their recommendations included the creation of a media monitoring group, comprising politicians, media representatives and academics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New rules on FGM announced

There are some issues which regardless of what political persuasion you are transcend party politics. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one such issue, for which there is a cross party consensus.

New measures have been announced which will end the practice of FGM “once and for all”.

The new rules and guidance provide much action and investment into this terrible crime and were announced as a new study revealed the numbers of women living in England and Wales with the effects of FGM are twice as high as previously estimated.

The report, by Equality Now and City University, found that more than 137,000 girls and women in England and Wales are victims of FGM. Although it has been illegal to carry out FGM in the UK since 1985, the research found approximately 103,000 migrant women aged 15 to 49, 10,000 girls under 15 and about 24,000 women aged 50 or above are victims of FGM.

The new measures announced today will make it the parents’ responsibility to protect their daughters from FGM. If they fail to do so they will be punished. In addition there will be a £1.4mn investment into preventative measures under the ‘prevent programme’ which will both help to stop the practice been carried out on girls but also support and care for victims.

Training will also be given to health and social workers, police and teachers who will be taught to identify those who are a potential risk of being subjected to this most brutal form of abuse.

And a new Border Force child protection unit has been set up which will work alongside the police to target specific flights into and out of the UK in an attempt to identify and prevent young girls being taken out of the country for this purpose.

This is an important step that will go a significant way to stopping this terrible crime. We must also continue to support victims in this country alongside the urgent preventative work which is now being undertaken.

Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now told the Guardian professionals needed clear guidance to identify at-risk girls but also that action was urgently required: “The government needs to get a handle over this extreme abuse of the most vulnerable girls in our society by implementing a robust national plan to address the issue,” she said.

“There is no time to waste on platitudes as thousands of girls living in England and Wales are having their life blighted by this damaging practice.”

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

David Cameron re shuffled his cabinet this week and in doing so increased the number of women in it from three to… five. In 2011 the number of women in his cabinet was five so there is no improvement in real terms. And even if you include those who can attend cabinet that figure has only increased from five to eight. We are just a few months away from a general election so Cameron placed a couple of women in some prominent positions to appease those who would criticise the lack of women in his cabinet in previous years.

As I said in a post from my blog earlier in the week, “it was not a good day for women…He [David Cameron] illustrated that he is in no way committed to any form of gender parity…”

Andrew Rawnsley wrote a powerful article in this weekend’s Observer in which he said that you can tell a lot from the appointments Prime Ministers make when they form a cabinet.

So what does Cameron’s decision tell us about him? He doesn’t have a particularly high regard for women if the choice words Downing Street used to describe the new women ministers are true. Rawnsley explains: “Getting the promoted women to parade up the Downing Street ‘catwalk’, as Number 10 spin had incited the hacks to call it, diminished both them and the claim that the prime minister is an equal opportunities employer. It strongly suggests that for all his rhetoric about valuing women for their abilities, he really believes, in Melissa Kite’s acute phrase, that “a woman’s place is in the PR strategy.”

I also reminded people in my blog that “what is particularly disappointing (but not very surprising) is that back in 2009 before Cameron was in power he had promised to ensure a third of his cabinet would be women by the end of his first parliament.”

Meanwhile the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has urged the UK to stay in the European Union, hours after UKIP’S Nigel Farage promised the UK was “close to exiting.”

Renzi was addressing the European parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, as Italy started its six month presidency of the European Union, when he said: “Europe without the UK would not only be less rich, but less Europe and less itself.”

Meanwhile, what Farage meant by “Britain is close to exiting” is anybody’s guess, since that’s so obviously not the case.

And last but by no means least, congratulations to Emily Benn on being selected to contest Croydon South for Labour. If elected Emily will be the fifth generation of her family to sit in the Commons; Stephen and Nita must be very proud. On a more mundane note, I was pleased to chat to her uncle Hilary at the National Policy Forum on Saturday.

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Plenary Debate on the Withdrawal of the Maternity Leave Directive

I wrote last week about the Commission’s plan to scrap the maternity leave directive.  This week in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, I spoke in a debate with Commission about their proposal.

Most of the speakers, including myself, are appalled at that the Commission could so meekly give up on this very important directive. It has been clear from the beginning that this issue is difficult and controversial, but that is no reason to abandon it. We have already wasted four years doing nothing. Now the Commission and the council have a chance to correct that in this new mandate.

I hope the listen to the pleas of myself and my colleagues in the European Parliament. You can watch my interjection in the video above and you can watch the whole debate by following the link here.

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My BBC interview on Juncker and Cameron’s Re-shuffle

Earlier this week I was invited to go on the BBC Daily Politics Show to discuss Jean Claude Juncker’s appointment as President of the European Commission. As you may know the EPLP did not support Juncker’s nomination and we voted against him when the European Parliament voted on the issue in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

You can watch the interview here:

 

Also this week I spoke on Radio5 Live about David Cameron’s cabinet re-shuffle in which the number of women increased from three to five. He had, in fact, had five women in 2011 so he hasn’t shown himself to be in any way progressive.

You can listen to my debate here:

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Cameron fails women

It was not a good day for women in David Cameron’s party yesterday. He illustrated that he is in no way committed to any form of gender parity after the number of women in his cabinet rose by just two.

This is a particularly poor showing for Cameron as he has simply restored the number of women in his cabinet to the level it was three years ago at the end of 2011 when he had just five women on board.

What is particularly disappointing (but not very surprising) is that back in 2009 before Cameron was in power he had promised to ensure a third of his cabinet would be women by the end of his first parliament. So five years on has he kept to his pledge? The short answer is no. There are now 23 Tory female ministers – before today there were 20 – that represents just short of 24 per cent of Tory ministers in total.

Even if you add in those women who have the right to attend cabinet, that has only increased by three, from five to eight.

It’s pretty clear that this is all a rather woeful attempt to prepare for next year’s election to show the electorate he is serious about women. However, it’s such a marginal improvement that one could be forgiven for thinking it’s just window dressing; it’s not really a serious attempt to address gender disparity within government at all.

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