The education of women, Monty Don and control of global population

11 Jun
Elizabeth Fry on the back of the £5 note

Elizabeth Fry on the back of the £5 note

Often I’ll start tweeting about something that piques my interest when I’m listening to the radio or watching something online or see a story reported on twitter. This blog arises from one such instance. Although it isn’t a mental health topic, it is related to an issue I’ve come across in the mental health field: namely people talking about us rather than with us.

The programme in question was broadcast earlier today on BBC Radio 4. It was episode 1 of a series of 30, called Shared Planet. The presenter is horticulturalist Monty Don, with whom I engaged in a couple of twitter chats. This is how it began:

Do men in the media notice, when they’re discussing a topic that most intimately affects women, that there are no women at the table? This morning, I stumbled across the end of a programme called Shared Planet, the first episode in a 30-part series which this week was about global population growth.

I heard an all-male discussion on population growth, women’s reproductive choices and the need to educate women. No women spoke. The presenter, horticulturalist Monty Don, concluded that the solution to reversing global population growth was educating women. Women needed, in the words of one of the male experts, “a more rational attitude towards their reproductive life.” Had I really just heard that? It seemed a simplistic conclusion phrased in patronising terms.

I wonder whether a woman presenter would reach the same simplistic conclusion. I wonder whether a woman scholar would describe uneducated women as irrational. I don’t know the answer to either question. But one thing I do know is that, if you’re discussing women’s reproductive choices and women’s education, women’s voices should be heard.

Just at that point, a tweet popped up from the Women’s Room about female scientists who had been overlooked for recognition, and about the removal from the country’s currency of the only female historical figure, Elizabeth Fry (pictured at the head of this blog post).  The Woman’s Room was set up last year because:

“For two days in a row, in October 2012, the [BBC Radio 4] Today programme ran a segment on a female issue. On both days, the issue was discussed exclusively by men. The BBC claimed that they had been unable to find female experts despite their best efforts.”

There is now a database sortable by region and area of expertise listing over 2,000 female experts. The aim is to enable local media to find local female experts and also for women to be able to get together and form local networking groups.

What did I learn from my twitter conversations with Don? That he may not have listened to the final edit of the programme. Take a look at the conversation and see what you think. On the plus side, he’s now had the Woman’s Room drawn to his attention so hopefully next time he’s presenting a programme with a female focus he’ll consider including a woman’s voice too.



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