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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Today’s girls, tomorrow’s future

Friday, March 9, 2007

At a breakfast in London organised by Aurora to celebrate International Women’s Day Meg made the following remarks.

It’s good to be here this morning, starting a day of celebration for International Women’s Day. I think it’s important that we mark days like this, occasions where we can reflect on how far we have come compared to the chances available for our mothers. It’s only by looking back we can appreciate that things have changed for the better.

Looking around at this gathering of successful women it can be hard to consider that anything would have held you back. But as we know, it’s not just about how good you are, how dedicated, how smart. It’s also about how others see you, and for too long women were seen as ideally suited for certain kinds of jobs - working with children, cooking, cleaning. Guess what - all low paid, low status jobs.

Well thank goodness that narrow stereotyped banding of half the human race is on its last legs. But it would be a fool who announced that these ideas had all gone.

It was these myths about what females can and can’t do which the Women and Work Commission had in mind when it identified girls’ early experiences as being so important. We all pick up what is acceptable, normal, from interaction with others. The evidence that the Commission saw convinced them at it’s at a very early age that we pick up what is acceptable for a girl to do, and what is not.

When responding to the Commission’s recommendations we set out a range of measures aimed at changing this situation. We want to ensure that children’s early experience is not gender stereotyped, and break the constricting hold over girls’ and boys’ career choices. The ‘One Year On’ Report we are publishing at the end of the month will set out where we are in implementing these measures.

I’m glad to say that schools are much better at recognising the importance of offering options to children that do not simply slot girls and boys into their pre-ordained roles. As an example, Valerie Walkerdine in her book Counting Girls Out, described how gender stereotypes impacted on how girls’ performance in maths was seen. Maths was a boys’ subject - girls didn’t do maths, and when they did they weren’t very good at it.

But, as Walkerdine found, this gender stereotyping is not correct. Girls have outperformed boys at GCSE level for a number of years now. Last year, over 60% of girls got good grades in their GCSEs - an increase of more than 10% in the last 10 years. More than half of girls got good grades in at least 5 GCSEs including English and maths.

So when offered a fair choice the girls do well. I want to extend this into the business world. Offering good quality work experience for girls is important, and I’m really pleased that 20 businesses participating in our exemplar employers’ scheme are working with schools to provide work experience for girls in non-traditional areas. I’d like more businesses to offer young people different and more varied work experience opportunities. Can I encourage you to explore how you could take part in this scheme?

The title for this morning is ‘today’s girls, tomorrow’s future’, and yes today’s girls do have more opportunities than earlier generations. Their chance for a good future in work and business is greater than ever before.

But women are still less likely than men to go into business for themselves. If women started up businesses at the same rate as men, an extra 150,000 businesses would be created every year. While more women than before are board members of top UK companies, less than 4% are in executive roles.

One of my local universities Sheffield Hallam University takes part each year in an enterprise programme for its undergraduates. From talking to students, both male and female, this really does instil in them the idea of enterprise and that they could set up their own business.

So whilst we can celebrate the distance travelled, and we should! We must acknowledge that there is still have some way to go.

Enjoy your breakfast!


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