We must challenge gender inequality

SHOCKED Bishop of Portsmouth Christopher Foster wants to challenge poor attitudes and behaviour towards women
SHOCKED Bishop of Portsmouth Christopher Foster wants to challenge poor attitudes and behaviour towards women

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Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, reflects on the attitudes and behaviour towards women

in this country

Some research reported by the BBC suggests that 3.7 million women will receive a pay rise by 2020 owing to the new National Living Wage, compared to 2.3 million men who will benefit from the same pay rise.

While I am of course glad of any increase in living standards made possible through a pay rise, the fact that so many more women than men remain on the lowest wages reminded me of just how far we are in this country from achieving gender equality.

I have also been uncomfortably reminded of this in my day-to-day life and work.

Like many others, I joined in the celebrations when women were finally able to become bishops in the Church of England.

It is so good to work alongside my new colleagues in their senior roles as well as with the many women priests in Portsmouth diocese.

But although church and society have made huge strides forward in the way women are treated in society, I still receive regular reports from my female friends and colleagues of difficulties they encounter in their life and work.

I am continually shocked by the number of girls and women who experience violence in the home and out and about in public.

Women who go out jogging speak of routinely experiencing derogatory comments about their bodies.

And even in church women in the congregation and in sometimes quite senior roles speak of receiving an unwanted touch or being spoken to in hugely patronising ways, and finding it difficult to challenge the behaviour to which they object.

Listening to their experiences has made me very aware of how I am relating to the women and men around me, and of the role I have to play in improving the situation.

It’s vitally important that everyone – male and female – feels safe and comfortable and able to share the best of their gifts without constantly struggling against outdated attitudes.

So this month, as I reflect particularly on the experiences of women in church and society, I recommit myself to doing all I can to challenging attitudes and behaviour that have no place in twenty first century life.

And I encourage you to join with me in working towards justice and respect in our society.

n The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Rev Christopher Foster, looks after the 142 parishes which make up the Portsmouth diocese, which includes south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.