OPINION - 2021 taught me that we still have so far to go before we are anywhere near gender equality

·4-min read
 (Ghazal Abbasi/Andrew Perry)
(Ghazal Abbasi/Andrew Perry)

A few years ago, my friend David told me he liked to go running late at night to clear his head. Since then, the concept of pounding out the miles down dark city streets has taken a peculiar hold over me - perhaps because as a woman, I know I’ll never be able to do it.

Recently I voiced this unfeasible desire to a male friend of a friend (in that awkward interlude where your mutual pal pops to the loo).

“Really? I personally think that in any part of London, you’d be able to go for a run at night and be completely safe.”

I couldn’t detect a single shred of irony. No year in human history has been a breeze for women, but 2021 has thrown into focus a particularly sinister strain of misogynistic violence.

Sarah Everard was wearing bright clothing before she was kidnapped, raped and murdered by Met Police Officer Wayne Couzens. Sabina Nessa’s body was found just five minutes away from her home when she was murdered on the way to seeing a friend.

Thankfully, being told that my fears about going for nighttime wanders in Holloway are invalid is an exception rather than the rule.

The list of precautionary safety measures women take is ever-expanding and often scrutinised over dinners at friends’ houses, when the conversation turns to our journeys home.

Usually, if it is past 10pm, the final verdict is that we will get an Uber and share our route in real-time - such diligent monitoring has come to feel entirely natural.

Last month, Geeta Wedderburn and I published an investigation into the vile misogyny faced by female councillors. After some interviews, we’d sit and stare at each other in disbelief, finding it hard to comprehend that these women weren’t taken seriously when they raised concerns about their safety.

That is precisely what gender equality issues boil down to – being taken seriously. Whether this is addressing women’s fears about safety, their professional capabilities, or even their specific health needs – a sea change is necessary to acknowledge and act on these concerns.

Cue a frankly bizarre story in The Times about the “smoking-hot” data crunching heroes of the pandemic who all happened to be white men. Maybe this was an ill-fated attempt at humour, but despite using phrases like “young maths-daddy”, it left everyone far from amused – especially by claiming that these roles “tend to be [occupied by] lads.”

I don’t have to cast the net very far to know that female data journalists have played a key role in shaping our understanding of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Vaccine for the World Project here at the Standard (which is edited by Rosalind Russell, a woman) ran a deep-dive story by two female data journalists, Gemma Ritchie and Gemma Gatticchi, about how to transform Africa from a vaccine desert to a vaccine hub.

At one PR event this year, on which I was writing a story, I was allowed to bring a plus one. One of my male friends, Freddie, was available that evening so off we popped to the venue, where a hydroponics system piqued my curiosity.

An event organiser wandered off to find an expert who could answer my technical question. When they returned, the expert made eye contact with Freddie the whole time, until he realised that I was the one holding the voice recorder and wearing the staff lanyard.

This kind of occurrence may seem low level in comparison to the kind of violence discussed earlier, but we cannot set our standards to simply feeling safe while out and about – we also need to aspire to feeling recognised and valued as professionals.

And in some instances, great leaps have been taken in this direction this year. The M-word (menopause, oh the horror!) has been spoken about openly in the past few months, whereas previously it would have been uttered quietly over tea breaks.

Just this week, research has shown that over half of 110,000 female respondents felt uncomfortable talking about health issues in the workplace. The Vision for Women’s Health strategy by the Department of Health social care has set out to tackle “decades of gender inequality” and establish a UK- wide menopause taskforce.

This institutional change has come hand in hand with a cultural shift, as celebrities and public figures have started sharing their own experiences of the menopause.

2022 will not be the year I go on my moonlight run. But maybe it could be the year where I am taken a little more seriously

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