Atheist Alliance International (AAI) has released its report on gender imbalance within the atheist movement. AAI’s Position Statement explains,
Atheist Alliance International has been running an Atheist Census project for the past several years. One of the striking results of this project has been the gross gender imbalance in participation (and, presumably, self-identification) that the project has consistently shown. AAI believes that this gender imbalance is a problem within the atheist movement and community that needs to be rectified. This report – a compilation of research on the causes of the imbalance, as well as possible solutions, was compiled as a response to this issue.
While Atheist Alliance International does not believe that we can solve this problem on our own, we do believe that it is a significant and urgent issue that should be seriously addressed by movement and community leaders in order to strengthen the foundations of our community and forward our movement.
The information in the AAI Gender Balance Report, compiled in 2016 by AAI Board Members Carlos Afredo Diaz (Argentina) and John Hamill (Ireland), is not unexpected:
At the time of writing, the Atheist Census Project recorded that on average worldwide, 73.2% of respondents were male.
The male female ratio is a little better in Canada. Out of the 12,778 responses from Canada, 69.3% were male and 30% were female. Why do significantly more men than women in Canada and worldwide self-identify as non-religious?
To answer this question, AAI “sought the input of atheists and secularists from outside the 73.2% of male respondents to [its] census” and grouped the responses under three headings: aggressiveness, socialisation, and selection.
In general, aggressiveness is not considered an admirable quality in men or women, but men are more likely to get away with being aggressive, which “may lead men to more readily adopt a public position opposing a deity.”
As the Report notes, “many cultures have historically socialised women into deferential and dutiful roles.” Regardless of the society or the culture, women are viewed and view themselves, either consciously or unconsciously, as caregivers which “may incline women to be more conservative and risk averse, thereby creating a tendency towards the prevailing religiosity.”
The AAI Report admits “One area that demanded particular scrutiny across the responses, related to the selection of candidates for conference panels, working committees, management teams, etc.” However, the Report cautions “Gender discrimination leading to all-male speaking panels may not even be conscious” because “[a]ll of us are influenced by cultural and societal norms and we may have learned behaviours and biases that could include misogynist influences.” So again, socialisation, either consciously or unconsciously, leads both genders to chose males rather than a balance of males and females to represent them when it is practical and possible to do so. While all organisations should be aware of the effects of socialisation, the AAI Report maintains that “an historical socialisation of women leading to the over-representation of men with atheist organisations, is an issue that atheist organisations can actively seek to address today.”
The AAI Report concludes with three recommendations that encourage the creation of gender equality policies, gender quotas, and awareness:
- Atheist Alliance International will recommend to all of our affiliate groups that they should document and adopt a formal Gender Equality Policy.
- Atheist Alliance International will recommend to all of our affiliate groups that they should adopt gender quotas for their leadership structures and for any speaker panels that they arrange during conferences or public meetings. The level at which those quotas should be set, can be dependent on the size of the group.
- Several responses to the Atheist Alliance International questionnaire suggested that remedial actions need not all be restrictive, in terms of limiting the over-representation of men. Rather, some awareness raising initiatives aimed at those of all gender identities may be useful.
While the AAI Gender Balance Report’s recommendation are addressed to the Atheist Alliance International organisation, the Board of Atheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance International’s affiliate groups, the Report is a valuable resource for all atheist organisations. The Report is clear, concise and focused; moreover, it could motivate women who have not yet self-identified as non-religious and who have not been counted in the Atheist Census to do so.
These women may agree with the response, included in the report, from Professor Christine Overall (Department of Philosophy and Gender Studies, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada)
“Capable women can still be shy and may not wish to be public about their skepticism. It may be that atheism is – or seems – too bold, too strong, too confident, even too outrageous, to be consistent with women’s stereotypical gendered characteristics (lack of confidence, quietness, submission to authority).”
However, these women may find that too bold, too strong, too confident, and even too outrageous are liberating qualities that can catapult them to an equal place in the atheist movement and atheist organizations.