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The global gender gap across health,
education, economic opportunity and
politics has closed by only 4 per cent
in the past 10 years, with the
economic gap closing by just 3 per
cent, suggesting it will take another
118 years to close this gap
completely. (World Economic Forum,
Global Gender Gap Report 2015)
Despite continued efforts, the under-representation of women in manykey areas of global power and
influence is evident. This is, of course,
not a new issue. Earlier versions of
gender gaps associated them with
women’s biological, social and intellectual
inferiority (as an 18th-century given) or
with women’s ‘natural’ roles as carers,
mothers, ‘womanly companions of men’
(as in the 19th-century ‘complementarity’
agenda). ‘Blame the brain’ was the mantra
underpinning these essentialist
justifications of the status quo – the
biologically determined differences
between men’s and women’s brains were
viewed as the cause of these imbalances,
and, most significantly, these differences
were seen as ‘hard wired’, fixed and
A key breakthrough in our knowledge
of the brain in this century, fuelled by the
stunning technological advances in
research, is that brain structure and
function is not fixed and unchangeable,
and not the same irrespective of context
or culture. It is, in fact, exquisitely
plastic, mouldable by experience
throughout life. It is also ‘permeable’,
responding to social attitudes and
expectations, as is shown by brai