World

Viewpoint: The magical world of 'The Female-Led Future'

Illustration: 'It's the story of boys in skirts and girls in spaceships' Image copyright NATALIE BYRNE

Founder of The Pink Protest and author Scarlett Curtis shares her vision for 2030, and asks whether feminism is anywhere near "done".

Scarlett is one of this year's BBC 100 women, an inspiring and innovative group who are driving change for women around the world.

I am not a fan of science fiction. It's a genre that bores me and as much as I have tried, over the years, to muster up excitement for Star Wars, Doctor Who or even Nineteen Eighty-Four, I inevitably end up switching off and losing interest.

There is just one future reality that truly interests me. It's the far-off, magical world titled "The Female-Led Future".

After all, feminist activism is an act of science fiction. This is a world being created in real time, by real people.

So, let us take the grand unveiling of the 2019 BBC 100 Women list as an opportunity to imagine what this world could look like by 2030.

A world in which women everywhere are given equal access to education, have control of their own bodies and are fairly represented by the leadership that drives social change and affects the way we live.

The 'ball-busting girl-boss'

Image copyright NATALIE BYRNE

What could this future female leadership look like? There are two competing schools of thought on this.

One argues that female leadership looks exactly like the male leadership we already know.

This is the concept of the "ball-busting girl-boss". She's the kick-ass CEO with heels as sharp as her tongue, an army of nannies at home caring for her kids and a trouser-suit that brings cold, hard fear to all the men who serve beneath her.

The other argument explores the idea that perhaps the brutal machismo that we have come to associate with leadership and power is as much a part of the problem as female oppression.

Perhaps aggression, fear and hierarchy are the issues, so the idea of whacking a business suit on a woman and throwing her into the boardroom was always a bad idea.

Perhaps the idea of "having it all" is one that was flawed from the beginning.

This second argument tends to be the one I like best.

I'm a "soft" person. I cry easily, I am led by emotions and would rather never work again than earn a living from a job in which I was required to argue on a daily basis.

My preference is for a leadership model with these traits, which are often seen as "female", at its core.

From Greta to AOC

Image copyright Getty Images

While progress is slow, this "vulnerable power" is starting to make itself known.

Activist and campaigner Greta Thunberg's quiet determination has arguably propelled the climate movement further in the last year than in the decade before it.

At the same time, the passion and emotion of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has sparked a much-needed fire within the US political climate, while Tarana Burke's #MeToo movement has used simple, powerful storytelling to reframe global perceptions of sexual harassment.

Looking at the representation at the top is often a depressing exercise, with fewer women leading FTSE 100 firms than are run by men called Stephen.

Yet when women do get a seat at the table, the positive impacts are plain.

Women still make up just 3% of mediators in major peace processes, but the resulting agreement is 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.

Hiring women to lead corporations can be beneficial too.

Interviews with female CEOs of major US firms found they were often driven by a sense of purpose, and embraced teamwork to lift up others and achieve their desired results.

Image copyright Getty Images

Meanwhile, if other OECD countries increased their female employment rate to match that of Sweden - which is often held up as a beacon of gender equality - collective GDP could be boosted by more than $6 trillion (£4.9tn).

Do we 'actually' need feminism?

So there we have it - the tantalising hints of a female-led future utopia in which money and equality run through society like rivers.

But what is it actually going to take to get there?

I have, much to my chagrin, become that person at parties that people like to challenge on whether or not we "actually need feminism".

This question tends to be posed by those who have never personally felt the negative effects of inequality.

The response is simple but generally not one that I like to whip out over cocktails; one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence, while 61% of 15-24 year-olds infected with HIV are female.

One in five girls worldwide are thought to be married before 18, and at least 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).

Fewer than one in five of the world's landowners are women, and in 18 countries a husband is still allowed to ban his wife from working.

These statistics aren't just numbers - they are the basis for gender inequality.

Image copyright Getty Images

They are the fire that fuels the fearless activism of millions of women across the globe.

They are the reason that feminism will not be "done" until equality is a reality not just for certain groups but for every woman on every corner of the globe.

These numbers betray the violations of fundamental human rights that take place every second of every day, and are the core of feminism.

Boys in skirts, girls in spaceships

So let us return to our question - what does a female-led future look like?

The first step is to fix these glaring inequalities.

In 2015, every UN country agreed to 17 sustainable development goals, and number five is gender equality.

These world leaders made a promise to end FGM, value unpaid labour, promote empowerment through technology and ensure women's full participation in leadership and decision making.

These goals are not a dream - they are a promise, and unless this groundwork of equality is laid, nothing else is going to be possible.

But once that has been done, once rights have been given, discrimination ended, equality achieved, what does a true "female-led future" look like?

I think that's what we're all trying to figure out. I think it might be the stuff of dreams, of visions, of stories yet to be told.

It's the story of boardrooms with breast-pumps, of blind dates without fear, of short skirts that don't "send signals", and gender without binaries.

It's the story of boys in skirts, girls in spaceships, governments with compassion and sex without power.

It's the story that is yet to be told, but one which activists are dreaming up and writing into reality every day.

It's the story I'm extremely excited to find out the ending to, and one that I promise never to give up on.

It's the story that needs YOU if it's ever, ever going to become a reality.

100 Women


What is 100 Women?

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year and shares their stories.

It's been a year of huge change around the globe, so in 2019 BBC 100 Women is asking: what could the future look like in 2030?.

Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and use #100Women

Illustrations by Natalie Byrne