Building on its innovative access agenda, the University of London currently supports 50,000 students, half of whom are women, in 180 countries with an additional 1.4 million learners gaining access to quality higher education through its MOOCs programme available through the online Coursera platform.
Dr Stiasny added:
Women with little or no access to traditional pathways to higher education have especially benefited from the University’s distance and flexible learning programmes since 1858, as they can study at their own pace from anywhere in the world whilst balancing personal, professional and family commitments.
Although family obligations have long been viewed as a barrier to women’s entry into higher education, Dr Rachel Adams from the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies presented an alternative viewpoint: ‘I think family plays a really important role in encouraging women, and encouraging them to work, especially if they have children’. While more women are being educated today than ever before, Dr Rachel Adams explained that: ‘Despite the increase of women in education, this has largely not been matched with women in the labour market.’
Following this remark, Dr Rachel Adams highlighted several points contained within the 1963 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This bill of rights was only adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, forming part of the fairly recent history of laws to protect women’s right to education.
Professor Lisa Webley from the University of Birmingham took up this point in her comments:
Women have made huge progress over the last 150 years - we've gained access to higher education, we've gained access to career opportunities in professions. By being members of the legal profession we've been able to both embody the rights of women to participate and to champion them too, but we also need to keep in mind there is more work to be done.
Becca Bunce, Co-Director of IC Change, also works on the regulation of international law as it applies to women’s rights. She remarked on the courage of the original nine women who entered higher education, at a time when their only counterparts were male, and the tenacity women continue to exhibit when it comes to breaking down barriers.
Thinking about those nine women who came along 150 years ago, what it must have felt like to have been one of those nine. What it is like to be any woman who applies and puts herself out there, and says I am going to go for this, I am going to put myself forward. That is so tough, and it is still tough, and that is something we need to acknowledge. We need to think about how that works when we have other intersectionalities, whether that is race, disability, migration status, trans-status. There are a multitude of factors that can affect our experiences.
In her role with IC Change, Becca Bunce is working to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women to make it law in the UK. Becca is an advocate for disabled women, and the Istanbul Convention is especially topical for this area of advocacy, as disabled women are twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence as other women. Early criticism of the campaign drove her passion for creating change through international law.
Becca Bunce said: ‘One of my favourite things when we started the campaign was when someone said to us, ‘This law, like most women, is overly ambitious.’ At that point, we knew that we were locked in.’
Comments from the women legal experts was followed by Q&As from the audience.