Give us all a proper education

It's amazing to think that the female of the species could ever be referred to as the "weaker sex". But I concede, it is a confusing time to be a woman.

In a week when the army is considering allowing women on the front line, yet women approaching 50 form the largest growth in the unemployment figures, I attended the Jewish Care Woman Of Distinction ceremony.

Eating sushi (as you do) I marvelled at the gathering of strong, powerful women, all at the top of their careers while never forgetting their family commitments or community affiliations. The theme of the day was education. With an education, a young woman can set out into the world with dreams and aspirations and make them a reality.

The brilliant, charismatic, groundbreaking film producer Tessa Ross (who championed 12 Years A Slave to become the film it is) spoke about the gifts her mother gave her of an education and self-belief, which propelled her to be brave in her creative choices - and how Friday-night dinners can stand side-by-side with Oscar ceremonies and film editing suites.

The other recipient, Kindertransport refugee Dame Stephanie Shirley, blew me away. In the top 100 most powerful businesswomen and scientists in the UK, as well as being a major international philanthropist, she decided in 1962 to pave the way for women in the workplace. Her first company employed only women, in a world that looked on such a venture with a patronising pat on the head and a raised eyebrow. Times have changed, haven't they? Women can achieve anything they want.

Times have changed for women. Or have they?

The news of the abduction of the 267 Nigerian schoolgirls taken at gunpoint by Boko Haram has sent shockwaves around the globe. That Islamic extremists could justify kidnapping young women about to sit a physics exam, threatening them with sexual violence, "selling" them into slavery and forcing the majority into conversion to Islam, all for the crime of wanting an education, is horrific. Furthermore, Kirsty Wark's recent BBC documentary about the new wave of graphic on-line sexism spilling over into UK schools, universities and the workplace is upsetting. Young women's achievements should be much more than the ability to dress and grind like Rihanna.

The BBC film was called Blurred Lines and they didn't come much blurrier than this year's Eurovision winner. Transvestite singer Conchita Wurst scored a staggering 290 points with a fine diva performance in a gold, floor-length fishtail dress. The Austrian winner had a message for the world: "Europe showed tonight that we are a unity full of respect and tolerance". Tell that to the Russians who disgustedly declared "its" win "the end of Europe. There are now no men. Or women. Only its."

Like another famous Austrian, Conchita sports distinctive facial hair. Let's hope Conchita's beard is put to positive use in the battle of the sexes.

    Last updated: 3:47pm, May 16 2014