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The Hot Seat: Laura Bates

Wednesday 18-11-2015 - 17:07

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, will be the Keynote Speaker at the NUS Women in Leadership conference in January. 

The Everyday Sexism Project has been hugely successful. Do you think awareness of gender inequality has risen in recent years?

I hope so - it certainly feels like there is more media coverage and focus on these issues, and we are seeing a really exciting surge of feminist activism and energy; it is great to feel that Everyday Sexism is a small part of this collective action. But of course there is still a very long way to go.

What do you think needs to happen in order for progress around the numbers of women in leadership roles to be made?

I think we need to see a concerted and combined effort that uses both top-down and ground-up action. So, for example, we need to see businesses and organisations stepping up and delivering on issues like pay transparency, shared parental leave and flexible working, but we also need to see a more grassroots shift in our normalised ideas and attitudes towards women, so that sexist and discriminatory behaviours start to be challenged in the workplace. We need to look at the portrayal of women as role models in children's books, toys and media, and we need to tackle harmful gender stereotypes that teach girls to be quiet and submissive and suggest boys are 'natural' leaders. 

What part does the student movement, and events like Women in Leadership, have to play in getting women better represented in leadership roles?

The student movement is playing a crucial role in challenging sexism and discrimination at every level, and NUS has been carrying out really brilliant work around 'lad culture' and harassment on campus. I hope that events like Women in Leadership help to create a sense of inspiration and solidarity, encouraging students to feel able to fulfil their full potential and to support one another in aiming high.

What can all genders do to help tackle gender inequality?

There is something everybody can do in their own small way to tackle gender inequality. It will cross all of our paths at some point, whether it's seeing someone being harassed in the street, overhearing a rape joke amongst our circle of friends, seeing somebody being casually discriminated against, or witnessing somebody being 'groped' (sexually assaulted under UK law) in a club. It might not feel like a huge thing, but standing up and stepping in, confronting these things when they happen and making it clear that they're unacceptable, supporting the victim and challenging the perpetrator, can make a real difference to the idea of what's 'normal' and socially acceptable. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something to bring us a step closer to gender equality. 

What do you hope the Everyday Sexism project might achieve overall?

We set out to raise awareness of the reality of sexism and the scale of the problem, and I hope that we've started to achieve that, with a huge amount of international media coverage and an online following of a quarter of a million. What I'm really excited about now is growing the project to have a real impact offline too. We work constantly and closely with schools, universities, workplaces, businesses, politicians, police forces and bodies like the Council of Europe and the United Nations to directly use the stories we've collected online to create change offline. Our entries from schoolgirls have been used by a theatre company to create a piece of verbatim theatre about consent and healthy relationships that tours schools nationally. Our entries from women in the workplace have been used to advise ministers working on how to close the gender pay gap. Our entries from women on public transport have been used directly to retrain 2000 British Transport Police officers and to inform a major campaign against sexual assaults on tubes and buses - a campaign that has raised the reporting of sexual offences on public transport and the detection of offenders by over 20%.So I hope that we will continue to create real offline shift as well as online awareness.

What change would you like to see in media coverage?

I'd like to see a real change in the media coverage of sexual violence, particularly pertaining to cases involving women of colour and trans women. It is horrendous to see how little international mainstream media coverage has been given to the recent Daniel Holtzclaw case, for example, in large part it seems because Holtzclaw is a police officer and the thirteen survivors who reported he had sexually assaulted them are poor black women. It is also common to see reporting on sexual violence that is either titillating or blames the victim for their own assault, which is a huge problem in a country where the most recent British Attitudes Survey revealed more than a third of the public believe rape victims are fully or partially to blame if they flirted with their attacker before the assault.

Who’s your biggest role model?

It's impossible to choose just one, but I am inspired by the courage, dedication and drive of women like Malala Yousafzai and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I also look up enormously to the people whose names we don't see in the headlines, but who are working tirelessly, every day, at the coal-face of the women's movement - those who work for groups like Women's Aid, Refuge, Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. 

And finally… What advice would you give to women hoping to get into leadership positions?

Believe in your own talent and don't let anybody's bullshit gender stereotypes get in your way!

Laura Bates will be the Keynote Speaker at the NUS Women in Leadership Conference on 26 January

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