The BBC 100 Women list for 2017 was revealed this week – a portfolio of inspirational individuals paving the way for female success across the globe. And this year, rather than simply publishing a list of names, as it has done for the last four years, the Beeb have upped the ante and signed 60 of the nominated subjects up to be part of their 100 Women Challenge.
The shortlist has been split into four teams in four different cities, each tasked with coming up with creative innovations for tackling four of the biggest problems facing women today: breaking the glass ceiling; sexism in sport; decreasing female illiteracy and ending street harassment. The last 40 places are up for grabs for women who significantly help each team to reach their goal by the end of October.
It's an admirable idea. Following the furore over the BBC pay gap – where it was uncovered that a disproportionate amount of their highest-earners were male, despite having the same job titles as their female counterparts – it’s no surprise the BBC would want to launch an initiative of this kind, and distance themselves from the negative press and subsequent public outcry.
But there’s a problem with the 100 Women Challenge, and one we must not ignore. While the cause itself is of incredible importance, it has once again fallen into the hands of women to attempt to solve a pervasive, global issue rooted in a power structure dominated by men.
I call this the “preaching to the choir” effect. While there are scores of women out there who - because of what they've been told and how they’ve grown up, who may not know they are worthy of equal human rights – there are many of us who do. We are aware of the second-class hand we’ve been dealt at the office, in our homes, in our relationships and on the streets, on a daily basis.
If it were down to us, we’d have nipped this gender inequality thing in the bud years ago. As it happens, it’s not, and so it persists. And that’s because the other 50% of the population don’t go through what we do, and as such, don’t think it’s their problem.
The campaigns women have led – from our rights to vote, to the continuing battle to legalise access to safe abortions – have been life-saving, life-changing and law making. But to move the issue forward, to push for a substantial cultural shift in attitudes, we need men to stand up and accept responsibility.
Their role is crucial, and the more we cut them out of the conversation by presenting gender inequality as a female issue, to be solved by women, the longer it will continue. We can shout from the rooftops about ending the traumatising effects of rape culture, for example, but until there are men challenging sexist banter in locker rooms, board rooms and class rooms, it simply isn’t going to happen.
I take my hat off to campaigns like White Ribbon and HeForShe, that are already working to encourage men to get involved in the debate, and to play an active role in ending the injustice of gender inequality. Only when men and women work together can we truly achieve a level playing field.