The 51%

March 2016

The British Council has published a collection of essays from around the world which highlight many of the difficulties faced by women and suggest these are part of a significant and on-going international problem. In his foreword to the collection, British Council CEO Sir Ciarán Devane, reflects on the issues raised by the contributors:

A Matter of Justice

It's rare to be able to say that half the people in the world – more than half, in fact – are affected by one issue. 

We can't create a prosperous, fair or happy society if half the population has a different, more limited, experience of life

The lives of women and girls are often circumscribed, pre-ordained by the strictures of their culture or by outdated economic conventions. Yet it’s obvious that we can't create a prosperous, fair or happy society if half the population has a different, more limited, experience of life. 

This booklet contains short reflections on women’s lives from a wide variety of different contributors from all over the world, each with a different story to tell. 

Their stories tell us that the issues facing women and girls are rarely simple, and never take place in a vacuum. Other factors always come into play, whether those are national politics, or family expectations, or the added burden of multiple discriminations. 

A Ukrainian woman’s experience is different from a Rwandan’s – but behind the differences there is a common story of thwarted expectations and unfair treatment. And beyond that story there is the common desire of women to determine the shape of their own lives. 

It’s a matter of justice, but also, in a world facing huge challenges, a matter of practical necessity. In the search for solutions, the world simply can’t afford to deny the experience, insight and energy of women. 

Gender equality is something we claim to take for granted in the UK – although of course our own record is far from perfect, as studies of pay and workplace discrimination, and domestic violence, for example, continue to tell us. 

As the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals come to the top of national agendas, so the empowerment of women and girls should rise to prominence in the minds of those setting national priorities. The British Council will be at the forefront of that agenda, in all the countries where we work. 

Hopefully this book of commentary and reflection by women (and one man) from around the world helps to start conversations and spark ideas about what can be done to enable the 51 per cent achieve 100 per cent of their – and our – potential. 

Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive, British Council