Let's Stop Ignoring Women's Voices in Times of Crisis

Mhairi Tordoff discusses why we need greater representation for women in spheres of authority. 

Covid-19 catapulted the UK into chaos. This lockdown is unlike anything we could have ever imagined. Our daily lives have started to look something like a dystopian novel, just with more banana bread. Within the chaos emerged a frightening trend. The experts called on to give us guidance were predominantly men.

The Expert Women Project found that in March the proportion of male experts platformed peaked at a three year high. There were 2.7 male experts to every one female expert interviewed on the UK’s top six news programmes. This is despite women making up the bulk of the care sector, facing horrific increases in domestic abuse and being more likely to be taking on increases in unpaid caring responsibilities. 

This tendency to ignore women’s voices in times of chaos is not unique to the current pandemic.

Climate change is expected to disproportionately impact women. During water shortages, women often bear the burden of increased time travelling to provide water for their families. The 2004 Indonesian tsunami claimed four times as many women’s lives as men’s. This is thought to be due to women being less likely to be able to swim and more likely to delay escaping to try and save their children. Yet solutions to preventing climate change and adapting to its impacts privilege the voices of, often white western, men.

This is true in peace building as well. In times of conflict women become targets for sexual violence with fewer resources for protection and survival. Yet when conflict ends, women are often excluded from participating in peace processes. This is despite an International Peace Institute Study finding that including women significantly increases the probability that peace agreements will last. 

Attempts to include more women in decision-making are dismissed as trivial distractions to the problem at hand. In Italy the daily briefings are chaired by men and the twenty strong expert advisory group does not include a single woman. A campaign to change this has been signed more than 4,500 times. Yet it has been dismissed as frivolous politiking while Italy battles with one of the highest death tolls in Europe. 

When we are feeling overwhelmed, our societies have a tendency to call on “strongmen” to give us clear solutions. But our responses need to be as nuanced as the problems we face. More importantly they need to include the voices of those who are bearing the heaviest burdens.

In times of crisis we need to pay attention to who is giving us the answers, and who is being ignored. 

Mhairi Tordoff is the Young Fabians Treasurer and SERA Youth Rep. She is currently studying for an MSc Climate Change, Development and Policy.

She tweets at @mhairi_tordoff

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