Sunday, 13 March 2011

Celebrating how the other half live, 100 Salford Women, and the need to think of Japan

The 8th March is when  International Women’s Day is celebrated. The origins of the International Women's Day date back to 1911. The day came about as a result of industrial revolution in Eastern Europe, and gained worldwide recognition in 1977 when the UN General Assembly made an official declaration. To mark the 100 year anniversary of this day, the Salford Staff Women’s Action Network (SSWAN) mounted an exhibition which profiles 100 women staff from all levels and departments across the University. The event aimed to highlight, acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and contributions of the  University of Salford's female workforce.

The exhibition is made up of the profiles of 100 women working in the University who were nominated by colleagues. Each profile includes a description of the women’s work and a photo of her. Brought together in one gallery, the 100 photos and profiles made for a glorious celebration of the achievements and contribution of these women to the University and to Salford. The exhibition also aimed to raise awareness of the University’s many and various staff networks. These networks are growing in number and representativeness of the University’s staffing profile. However, as I write this blog, I am not sure there is yet a SSMAN. (Salford Staff Men's Action Network)

Which is a shame. Perhaps the equivalent male network is planned to be launched in time for the International Men’s Day (19th November). This day has a much shorter history than the International Women’s Day. International Men’s Day was inaugurated in 1999 and is fully supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).The objectives of celebrating an International Men's Day include focusing on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It should be an occasion to highlight discrimination against men and boys and to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care.

However, Dan Abrams book, published on the day SSWAN was launched last year, and interestingly entitled Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else reveals the size of the outstanding task there is in finding ways to value both men and women. Despite the title, Abrams book is not about proving that girls are better than boys, any more than it is about proving boys are better than girls. Ultimately his book is about asking the important question of how we can all find ways of honouring and respecting both women and men.

Our professions (Nursing and Midwifery) are predominately made up of women. In terms of the School, 92% of the senior management, leadership and specialist roles are held by women. And I am glad they are. We have a con-joint validation event on the 16th of March at which our new pre-registration programmes are to be scrutinised and assessed prior to be being given approval (or not). This event will be the end point of over 18 months work on the part of many colleagues across the School - work that has been so effectively led by what I believe to be some of the best of Salford University’s women – and not all of them made the SSWAN 100.

And finally, research undertaken by the husband and wife anthropological team David and Barbara Shwalb, which looked at twentieth-century Japan and the United States revealed contrasting points of view about certain traits that are independent of gender and which reinforce the importance of socialisation, rather than biology, in shaping masculine and feminine behaviour. In Japan, cooperation and acceptance of a dependence on others (a trait that many in the US, associate with femininity) is valued in both males and females, and the Japanese socialise their children accordingly. This appears to be the case even though Japanese culture remains more committed to traditional gender differences than the prevailing US culture and which is still more male dominated. In contrast, in the US, individualism and autonomy have been highly valued and these traits have been fostered in both sexes, although more explicitly and extensively in boys. Things maybe changing however, who has not seen the Sky Broadband advert which takes as its marketing story, the Princess and the Pea, and wondered what is being sold...

This is a debate that’s likely to run and run, and we should all participate in making our views known. Likewise, given the recent tragic events in Japan, we should all think about how we can demonstrate our shared humanity, male and female, in providing support to those left devastated by the consequences of last Fridays earthquake and tsunami.