Men are part of the solution

We can’t achieve gender equality without the support and input of men – and nor should we want to, says Sue Tibballs

In late September 2017, the BBC announced their 100 Women list for 2017 – a line-up of “inspirational and innovative women” who are being recruited to tackle “some of the biggest problems facing women around the world”. These are the glass ceiling; female literacy; street harassment and sexism in sport.

This is clearly quite a tall order. But, why not? It is exciting to see such a diverse group of women from around the world being asked to work on some of the most ingrained challenges. But a couple of things made me feel really uncomfortable. Here’s why:

First, women can’t solve these problems without men. Nor should we. Looking back, men have played a central role in every single significant advance for women. From the fight for women’s votes to getting a woman’s face on bank notes, enlightened, progressive men have played an absolutely central role in supporting the change.

“We need to recruit people who know how to make the change”

What’s more, greater gender equality can’t happen without men. None of the above problems to be tackled by the BBC’s crack teams can be resolved without men – from the men who act in solidarity to call issues out; to male leaders who can enact change in law and policy; to the men and boys we need to work with to ensure damaging behaviour is challenged. In other words, men are part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution.

Over the 25 years of my working life, feminism has “mainstreamed” with huge engagement now from women and girls. My strong feeling is that the next phase relies on us now extending our movement to men and boys. We can’t do this on our own, we shouldn’t have to do it on our own, and enlightened men know they stand to gain. So with this in mind, I would like to see a really good representation of men on the BBC list helping solve these challenges.

Second, while the list is full of brilliant women, an important group is barely represented: the people who work in social change and know how to bring it about. Effecting social change is a big and often long-term job, and it takes all sorts to play their part. But campaigners are the ones who know – through long experience – how to get all these players to play to a tune that will be heard. They often aren’t the ones with pro le but they are a vital part of the mix. If we really want to make a dent in any of these issues, why not recruit the people who know how to make the change?

I was CEO of a charity called Women in Sport for seven years until 2014. I saw firsthand how it was the activists who, over many years, assembled the evidence, honed the arguments, built the relationships so when the 2012 Olympics came and the public at large saw the huge potential of women’s sport, people with power and profile felt able to take action – sensing a tipping point they had to be part of.

So, I hate to criticise the BBC because I absolutely love it and it plays a huge part in my everyday life. But if it really wants to help advance progress for women, please re-think who is in the line-up to pull off such difficult and much much-needed change.

Sue Tibballs OBE is CEO of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, a charity that supports and celebrates campaigners and change-makers.

 This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD.