Last night marked the Murray Edwards College annual Jo Cox Memorial Lecture. The evening was led by NHS innovator and historian Kathryn Perera, who addressed a tightly packed Buckinghamshire Lecture Theatre, in an event that grappled with the issue of the gender politics of loneliness.
The Cambridge Sociology department, where Jo Cox herself formerly studied during her time at Pembroke College, co-sponsored the event. It was aptly titled “All the Lonely People: The Gender Politics of Social Isolation”, in honour of the Batley and Spen MP’s hard work in this arena whilst she was alive.
Perera emphasised primarily that “gender identity pivots loneliness”. Citing the recent report by Dame Laura Cox which found that the bullying of women ‘in particular’ has become normalised in parliament, the former barrister stressed how loneliness still disproportionately affects women today.
While recent surveys reveal more generally that one third of people ‘often’ feel lonely, and that perhaps surprisingly 16-24 year olds suffer most from loneliness, issues surrounding objectification and transitional life events, such as pregnancy, often make women more susceptible to the condition.
Cox, whilst still in office, was often quoted as saying loneliness is the “most urgent challenge of our time”, and set up the first cross-party Loneliness Commission. Since her murder in 2015, the commission has been headed by her colleagues Seema Kennedy and Rachel Reeves, who aim to alleviate loneliness at both a central and local level. After the publication of a 2017 report, Theresa May appointed the first Minister for Loneliness this year; the department published their first strategy only last month.
The debate ended with broader questions on the continued discrimination of women in the academic and work environment. CUSU president Evie Aspinall, chair of the event, recounted how in Union meetings and large group discussions she is often the only woman to raise points, as other women with equally valid points often feel too intimidated to speak up.
Also in attendance were Jo Cox’s family, as well as Tim Leech, CEO of Essex’s oldest loneliness charity, Wavelength. Talking to TCS before the lecture, Leech spoke of how Christmas is a particularly difficult time, arguing how even just “a cold house” can significantly exacerbate loneliness.
Wavelength specialises in using technology positively to fight the condition, providing those most affected with televisions, radios and tablets. Since 2013, the organisation has granted 25 devices to Cambridge Women’s Aid. Leech emphasised how much of a difference this can make, that for “someone who has just had their partner die, they can turn the radio on at three o’clock in the morning – to have a human voice to go back to sleep”.