We must move forward as one to #BreakTheBias
Published on March 8, 2022
To mark International Women’s Day and #BreakTheBias, Animal Free Research UK’s Niamh Haslett observes though many equality battles have been won – especially in science – victory cannot be declared until all women live free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination
The fight for women’s equality is gaining more and more momentum as the years go on. In recent times, we have more understanding over the parities between men and women than we have ever had before. In 2021, eight countries of varying development status elected their first female heads of state or government. The World Trade Organisation appointed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as their leader. In the 26 years since its conception, she is the first woman and first African to hold the role. Marriage equality bills, laws of protection for vulnerable women and girls, diversity and inclusion policies are all being more widely accepted and supported in every nation.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #breakthebias. This is a message for women to strive for equality and bring awareness to the preconceptions women often face in every area we exist in. It addresses the consistent themes of underestimation and dismissal that can be seen throughout women’s history. We will not let it go on. Records were broken at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where 49% of all athletes were women. Women in the arts, especially women of colour and LGBTQIA+ women have been able to claim their voice and their space where it has always existed but never been welcomed.
Acknowledgement of the biases that are systemically ingrained in society is the key to reaching equity across all aspects of life. As is normalising accountability when we let that bias influence us. To accompany the strong, impactful movement that is International Women’s Day, actions must be implemented to address the bias that leads to the underrepresentation of people across the gender spectrum. Whilst we are providing more opportunities for women to express their voices and not go unheard, we’re still on this journey.
Over the last couple of years, we have all experienced global events we never could have predicted. The Covid-19 pandemic fuelled a devastating impact to the world as we know it. Now as we emerge, reflections are showing that the last two years have been tougher on women than men. We watched as the hospitality, retail, and informal working industries were forced to shut down, and the national health service stepped up. Women are the majority in all of these areas.
At Animal Free Research UK, we share the vision that fair and humane treatment for all leads to progress. Dr Lilas Courtot, Animal Free Research UK Science Manager, shares her thoughts on what it means to be a woman in this world.
“Gender, race, ethnicity, culture, age, sexuality, ability…. why do we let our differences tear us apart? Embracing diversity is the most valuable thing we can do. We are first and foremost human, lets act like it!
“We cannot deny or ignore that we live in a patriarchal world predominantly governed by cis, straight, white, men. We are currently facing the consequences of this domination. Biodiversity and climate crisis, growing inequality, famine, poverty, and war are all leading to more human and animal migration, refugee crises, pandemics, and devastating natural disasters. We need to act now, before we do irreversible damage to our home.
In this unsustainable world humans have built; the earth and its inhabitants suffer too much for the wrong reasons. Power and money. People from marginalised communities are always more affected by crises. We cannot fight for women only. To be exclusive is not progressive. I sincerely believe that women must join together with these communities to fight against injustice and domination, to lead the way to a new world where harmony between nature, animals and humans is always the priority.”
One of our PhD students, Lauren Hope, says despite the advancement of equality, women are still taken less seriously than men.
“Women – less so recently but still valid- appear to get taken less seriously than men. Women make up half of the life sciences workforce and hold half of the entry level jobs, which is much higher than other areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but men hold 90% of board positions and 80% of leadership teams. The life science industry also has one of the biggest pay gaps in the UK.
“However, as more women go into STEM careers, I think this imbalance is shifting. All three of my PhD supervisors are women who have worked hard and excelled in their field, which has been inspirational as they’ve forged their careers at a possibly more difficult time for women than this.
The strength and perseverance needed for women to overcome these adversities is what makes me proud to be a woman.
Even in the last few years, more opportunities for women and a greater focus on EDI has improved things for women career-wise. However, there are still some sexist attitudes, but I feel like this will go with time as long as we continue providing more of these opportunities and highlighting the fact that women deserve to be treated with equality.”
From my perspective, the beneficial outcomes that inclusivity brings show us how breaking the bias positively affects us all. I am only one voice among so many, I can only speak from my experiences and share the stories of the strong women that surround me. I’m so grateful to be part of such a beautiful community. I will continue to learn and grow from the powerful influence my female friends, family, peers, and heroes provide.
It’s important that when I am given the platform to address women’s issues, I advocate for those that face much more underrepresentation. If we do not give the spotlight to those most greatly affected, we won’t hear the issues or the answers.
We must believe women’s stories, rather than question every detail. We must trust women when they say there is a problem. We must not tear women down for standing up for change. In this unpredictable and challenging world, we learn from our history and our experiences as women, hold people accountable when they show their biases, and keep moving forward.
Written by Niamh Haslett
Animal Free Research UK’s Science Coordinator
- 5 ways women and girls have been the hardest hit by Covid-19. (2021, July 16). Oxfam International. https://www.oxfam.org/en/5-ways-women-and-girls-have-been-hardest-hit-covid-19
- Addressing the gender imbalance in life sciences today to secure a better tomorrow—Thoughts from the Centre. (n.d.). Retrieved 7 March 2022, from https://blogs.deloitte.co.uk/health/2019/03/addressing-the-gender-imbalance-in-life-sciences-today-to-secure-a-better-tomorrow.html
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- https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/feature-story/2021/12/sixteen-defining-moments-for-gender-equality-in-2021. (n.d.-b). UN Women – Headquarters. Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/feature-story/2021/12/sixteen-defining-moments-for-gender-equality-in-2021
- IWD 2022 campaign theme: #BreakTheBias. (n.d.). International Women’s Day. Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://www.internationalwomensday.com/2022Theme
- Women in the Workforce: Global (Quick Take). (n.d.). Catalyst. Retrieved 7 March 2022, from https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-the-workforce-global/
- Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2020, December 30). Research: Women Are Better Leaders During a Crisis. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/12/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis
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