Up Front 05/09

Gender equality is rarely out of the news. From Women’s Week celebrations in Ghana to London City’s ‘shocking gender pay gap’ and a call by the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner for local councils to improve representation of women within local government, the debate about women’s rights rages as much now as ever. One of the latest initiatives is a one-stop-shop for gender issues in astronomy and science. A new initiative called She Is An Astronomer (SIAA) has been launched, with a website of the same name. The site has a list of female astronomers over the ages, which begins with Hypatia of Alexandria who is credited with the charting of celestial bodies and the invention of the hydrometer. As one who lives with 5 females, not counting the dog, goat, chickens and other sundry farm animals, I may have a slightly jaundiced view of where the line for equality should be drawn. But a friend recently confided how he was delighted when a female engineer came to fix his washing machine. Initially she said it was going to be too expensive to repair, but after my friend’s wife veered towards a ballistic fit the engineer came back five minutes later to say she had magically fixed it. ‘Don’t know how’ she said ‘but it’s working now’. It strikes me that we’re missing a trick here. Since the first Chancellor of the Exchequer took office in 1316 we have never had a female Chancellor. Isn’t now the time for that magical fix that can only come about with a woman’s touch?