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Let us now praise famous men....




Let’s give our headline a makeover. On this International Women’s Day this seems like a good thing to do.


So let me speak in praise of an ordinary woman. She was a philosophy lecturer of mine, a Latvian woman, who believed in my academic potential when I was an undergraduate even when I did not. My studies lacked direction and purpose. She opened up to me the world of philosophy in a very engaging way. In retrospect her influence was pivotal. I will speak in praise of Dr Kate Nahapiet who effectively changed the trajectory of my whole life by giving me time, attention and direction. I owe her a great deal.


The campaign theme for this year’s Women’s Day is ‘#InspireInclusion’ while the UN has chosen ‘Invest in women: accelerate progress’. The UN no doubt has in mind substantial projects which will improve girls’ and women’s access to education and training, act against discrimination and abuse in the workplace, and so on.


But what about the local situation?


Yesterday evening our neighbour popped in to collect a parcel left with us during the working day. A senior finance man in his company, he has just returned from meetings in Australia. He will soon be off on business to Florida. (Somebody’s got to do it, he might say!) Meanwhile his wife combines her own full-time work as a lawyer with the care of their two sons under 10. They are excellent neighbours who seem to manage to juggle their double professional life pretty well but his regular global travel must inevitably bring its strains, and the principal responsibility for keeping the show on the road during his absences often falls on her, her mother and the other women in the family.


They are typical of millions of families in this country in which the wife / partner / mother is the glue which keeps the family together: nurturer and carer for young and old. All too often In many parts of the world beyond the West, it is the women who not only keep the family together but are small entrepreneurs and principal wage-earners too. Aid organisations know that the role and condition of women is key to a society’s thriving: when women suffer in times of civil strife, the national economy soon follows.


On Wednesday, our daughter, Emma took Helen to LettersLive - an event at the Royal Albert Hall for International Women's Day. It was organised by the publishers Canongate with Benedict Cumberbatch and other world-class actors and celebrities volunteering their time to read funny, dramatic and poignant letters. The show ’inspired inclusion’ by giving all the money raised to the Women's Prize Trust, which aims to change society by improving access to women's writing.


What can the rest of us do to ‘invest in women to accelerate progress’? How can we ‘inspire inclusion’? It is perhaps the men among our readers who particularly need to take note at this point.


Regrettably few of us have the charisma of Benedict Cumberbatch! But we do find ourselves in social situations in which various subtle forms of male supremacism still surface, often in verbal form. Often jokey. Various gender stereotypes slip into conversation. Even the most ‘enlightened’ of us are guilty sometimes. We can challenge that when it surfaces. We can be more careful too about our spoken and unspoken gender expectations. We will not show resistance when women occupy positions of leadership. And there’s also perhaps the division of labour in our own homes. Expressions of gratitude rather than taking things for granted.


This is all small stuff. And maybe, knowing many of our readers, I am ‘preaching to the choir’. But women have been excluded for so many centuries. These messages have to be repeated many times, and in many places, before they become commonplaces. And more than that, ‘inspire inclusion’ suggests something rather creative. That requires a little imagination and effort.


So often where there is recognition for and inclusion of women, we men benefit more than we expect. So let us take a moment to praise those ‘ordinary’ women in our lives. Many of them are in fact extraordinary.

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