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Bruce Bucknell

Former British Deputy High Commissioner Kolkata

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Belarus

10th December 2014

Human Rights begin at home

(on occasion of Human Rights Day, 10 December)

There is a time in life when we start learning from people younger than ourselves.  Perhaps that’s the best moment as a parent – when your children start telling you things you didn’t know.  We joke in Britain that you know you are getting older, when policemen look like children.

I’m a middle aged man, and I used to think that I wasn’t the right person to be writing about women’s issues.  But I’ve been persuaded otherwise because of a global campaign exactly on the issue of men supporting women’s rights.

The campaign has been fronted by Emma Watson, the British actress, who is young enough to be my daughter.  She spoke at the United Nations in September about the need for men to take responsibility for gender equality.  She said that being a feminist was not about hating men, and that men are imprisoned in gender stereotypes as much as women.

The campaign that Ms Watson was talking about is Heforshe (or more digitally correct – #heforshe or even @HeforShe).


Despite legislation, campaigns, revised education and other programmes, the issues of inequality and violence against women are still very much in the news in Britain.

25 November was the United Nations’ day to end violence against women, and the start of 16 days of activism against gender violence, which ends today, 10 December.  So I spent time talking to a Belarusian women’s rights activist about the issues to compare what is going on in Britain and Belarus.  Despite the very different circumstances in our two countries, there were a lot of issues common to both countries.

We talked about the continuing inequality between the earnings of men and women.  Official UK statistics suggest that the gender pay gap is 9.4% – although the commentary on the data sets out the difficulties in comparing figures.  There are lots of part-time jobs which tend to be filled by women, so that the difference in actual earnings is 19.1%.  In Belarus, the gap is higher.

We talked about the differing job prospects for men and women and how difficult it is for women to break through the “glass ceiling”, and how there are relatively few women in senior positions across government, business and other organisations in both our countries.  We agreed that successful organisations need diversity of thinking and skills and benefit from different viewpoints.

We talked about the workplace and how the UK has provided the right to request flexible working.  Modern technology, above all, digital communications, are making flexible working a reality.  This flexibility is vital to allow individuals with disabilities, family commitments or simply personal preferences to work in a way that suits them.

We talked about health issues and how girls in Belarus are taught how to look after themselves while boys aren’t.  I wasn’t sure about boys in Britain, but the emphasis that my sons put on healthy living suggests to me that the younger generations are much more health conscious than I ever was.

We talked about domestic violence and how it was still a very difficult issue to tackle.  Alcohol was a factor, particularly in Belarus, but it tended to heighten existing problems in a relationship.  The control of finances, the use of threats as opposed to incentives, and wider prejudice across society all contributed towards a culture where domestic violence was tolerated.

We agreed that children need loving parents, and that multi-generational families with more adults can help a child.  We talked of the image of women, how they still tend to be objectified in a way that men aren’t.  Women still tend to spend more time on housework than men.

We both agreed that domestic violence and inequality stem from the results of a power imbalance, and that the stronger tends to dominate the weaker.

So what should we do?

We agreed that we should strive for equality – at home, in the workplace, under the law; in fact, everywhere.

We agreed that there should be an end to impunity for any form of violence against women and men.  There are no excuses for inflicting physical or mental damage on anyone, certainly not a partner.

We agreed that gender violence and inequality were serious issues, and we should not make light of them.

Like other women who have taken a stand, Emma Watson has received an amazing amount of vitriol and misogynistic comment about what she said.  Indeed, the comments I read convinced me all the more that I should write about women’s rights, equal treatment and the continuing discrimination against women.

To paraphrase the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all are born free and equal, and should have the same rights and freedoms regardless of sex.  That’s why Human Rights start at home – with the equal treatment of women and men:  one with another, together, separately, or alone.

About Bruce Bucknell

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016. Bruce grew up on a…

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016.

Bruce grew up on a farm in southern England and enjoys walking in the countryside and visiting wild places.

He studied modern history at Durham University, and takes a keen interest in the history of the places he visits.

Bruce used to play cricket when he could see the ball. Now he enjoys watching cricket and many other sports in his spare time.

He has had a varied career in the Foreign Office. Between his postings to Amman (1988-91), Milan (1995-9) and Madrid (2003-7), he has spent much of his career in London mostly dealing with Europe and Africa.

He is married with two grown up sons.