by In Wales
Sun Dec 19th, 2010 at 04:33:55 AM EST
A night in with the wine and two good friends created all sorts of conversations but one in particular was about role models - in the context of the gender balance in the Assembly and why that is important. Having a gender balance in the Assembly has helped to create a very distinct Welsh (and socialist) brand of policies in Wales. Research shows that women are more likely to instigate discussions on equality, children, older people, welfare. The issues are being put on the table, debated and policies formed.
I tend to argue that it isn't so much a women vs men thing but the fact that by having a gender balance you are more likely to have people from different backgrounds putting a range of perspectives forward. Women are still more likely to bear primary caring responsibilities for children, and relatives, more likely to experience disruption to their careers to take time out to care and so on. You've heard it all before.
But the point for me is that you have better diversity, not just a narrow field of middle class white men largely tumbling out of a small number of schools and universities, all from the same kind of background. I think the current policies coming out from the ConDem coalition show the dangers of a narrow political elite churning out proposals based on their ill-evidenced assumptions and ideology whilst being utterly out of touch with the reality of most people's lives.
But the other good thing about gender balance is that it provides role models. My generation saw Thatcher, fair enough, but largely you didn't see politics as a career that women went into. It was (and still is in Westminster) dominated by men. You didn't see many women CEOs, high profile, successful women to look towards anywhere. It's still a problem in business. But Welsh children growing up now will be used to seeing women politicians as being as much of a norm as seeing male politicians. You can't tell a girl who wants to go into politics that it isn't something women do, because look! There they are. Women AMs, women on the cabinet.
When I was growing up, I didn't know anyone else who was deaf. Nobody. I only met other deaf children when I was 9. Apart from one school I was at for 18 months, I was the only deaf child I knew. There was nobody to look to out there. I didn't have access to TV (not subtitled in those days) or radio. My mother only read the Daily Mail (think disability, think charity). When I was told that deaf children can't do drama, you should be a scientist in a lab - you won't have to worry about talking to people, you'll find it too hard to communicate, you have to be able to hear to do that, you can't do this... When I was forced to stay behind after school to learn to touch type because 'that is all you'll ever be capable of if you do get a job', who was out there to prove them wrong?
So different perspectives create better policies, but diversity of people brings with it role models, for others like them, whether it is gender, background, disability, ethnicity, geography.
It is a fallacy to say that if I can do the things I've done, so can any other deaf child coming after me because poverty of opportunity and access coupled with low expectations does huge damage to those who do not have the internal resources to overcome external barriers. But perhaps I can influence change and at the same time be a role model to encourage others to increase their expectations of themselves, to have the strength to defy what society pins on them and to find their own self-worth.