It’s not about words, it’s about voices

I am currently working with 50:50 Parliament as a Consultant. Last Monday evening I retweeted a picture which, on the face of it, was a visual indication of just how far women – in politics, in authority, in the world generally – still have to go before they are taken seriously. In fact it was the faces that were the problem. Six of them. All white, all male with the words ‘Global Summit of Women 2014. Paris, France’ behind them.


Alongside the image I tweeted the words “There’s something not quite right about this photo…”

It was instantly retweeted with some people adding their disgust, dismay or even mild amusement at the April-Fools-Day-esque vibe to the image.

Then something peculiar happened. People began to reply to me informing me that the photograph was ‘intentional’ or ‘deliberate’.

“Well yes,” I thought, not understanding the point being made. When I first saw the image I assumed that it was deliberate, that six men were invited to sit on a stage and discuss issues relating to and impacting upon women. The fact that people were tweeting me, with what I believe were genuinely kindhearted motives, to tell me that this photograph was essentially okay because this is what the organisers had wanted to happen – well, I was astonished.

When I had referred to something not being quite right, I was referring to my assumption that undoubtedly good intentions from someone behind the scenes had ultimately resulted in a cock-up (pun originally unintended but it does emphasise the point somewhat).

As @labisiffre said on twitter:

“There is NOTHING quite right about this photo. The all-male panel were invited. I understood this. I tweeted it because the juxtaposition of the all-male panel and the title of the event ‘The Global Summit of Women’ is funny, and at the same time, on the serious side, encapsulates the positive discrimination in favour of men that the organisers of the event are opposing. There is NOTHING quite right about this photo.”

Really? Did @labisiffre have to explain this?

It seems so, and in no small part because of a piece by Amanda Hess for Slate. Hess states that the “outrage” generated by the distribution of the photo is typical of a kind of “quick-take feminism”, suggesting that anybody who thinks that this scene is wrong cannot possibly believe that the six men taking part in the debate are there with good intentions. This is not true.

I’m in no doubt that the panel of men wanted to be there to share their vision for an equal workplace – even if the reasons behind this vision are solely financially driven – and to add their voice to a conference that welcomed more than 1,000 women from over 70 countries. I also agree with Hess that true gender equality can be reached only if we have agreement and collective working from both men and women.

This is exactly the point. The panel of men does not set an example for collective working, it does not portray men and women sitting down together to discuss where business has failed or what it can achieve. It highlights the problem women are facing around the world in business, politics or even walking down the road.

When men want to join a debate, they simply pull up a chair. The Globe Women newsletter confirms that the reason the discussion was scheduled at all was in response to a challenge from Taj France CEO Gianmarco Monsellato “to include more men in women’s events as part of their own continuing education in gender relations.” The result was a panel of men getting exactly what they asked for (namely being centre stage at a conference for women) whilst the women listened and watched in silence presumably crossing their fingers for a Q&A section so that their voice may be heard.

When women want to join a debate, they have to fight to get to the table. At 50:50 parliament signatures are being gathered which will be presented to party leaders asking for a debate in parliament on addressing the fact that only 23% of MPs in the House of Commons are women. We have a very long way to go before we can embark upon the first stage of presenting the petition. When women challenge, it takes a long time for male dominated institutions to respond.

I don’t think a Summit for women about women is the place for men to continue their education in gender relations. If they really wanted to learn something they should be sitting in the audience listening to the voices of women.

When the photo of the ‘Global Summit Six’ was originally tweeted by commentator Marie-Andree Paquet she tagged the image with “A picture speaks a thousand words.”

It’s no longer about words. Words are spoken and forgotten quicker than last week’s tweets.

It’s about voices. It’s about women having the right to speak on behalf of ourselves, and not being pushed aside by men who either want to oppress us or speak on our behalf.


A picture may speak a thousand words, but the image above of the House of Commons does not suggest a variety of voices. We are repeatedly being told to step aside by male dominated institutions who are eager to speak on our behalf. Whether it’s school or work, at home or on the street, a Summit in Paris or a Government in London, it’s a problem that isn’t going to go away. Not unless we speak up, shout out and use our voice.

Add your voice to the 50:50 Parliament petition.

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