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Celebrate women coming to the fore in all aspects of life

Is it time to shield our eyes and cover our heads?

After so many false alarms, could the glass ceiling be about to shatter?

For the first time in history women can become bishops in the Church of England. The landmark vote yesterday by the General Synod was greeted with cheers.

Meanwhile we hear rumblings from Rome, quoted then queried, that the Pope is considering a future that includes women priests and an end to celibacy.

These are seismic ecclesiastic shifts, ones that will revolutionise the churches involved and, it is to be hoped, lead to a quickening of the pace towards gender equality throughout the Christian world.

Suddenly, women and their passage into male-dominated institutions are in the news. Today, David Cameron is expected to address the gender imbalance in his cabinet by promoting more women.

Recently, that mining colossus Glencore Xstrata appointed Patricia Merrin a director, the last all-male board in the UK's top-100 companies bowing to the inevitable.

I might be being Polyanna-ish but aren't these significant advances, ones that will lead to others? How much longer will it be before the battle is finally won? Not long, I think.

In 2018 we will celebrate the centenary of women being able to vote. The question is: how many more victories will there be by then? Now that there is momentum, I hope a lot more.

Louise Richardson might need to be persuaded. The Principal of St Andrews University is the first in her job to be refused membership of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. (This matters to her professionally because wealthy club members are a good source of funding for the university.)

She is permitted to lunch occasionally in the club house but rightly refuses to set foot in it until the gender bar is lifted.

She must wait until September for the 2,500 members to vote on the admission of women.

It requires a two-thirds majority. But the club, along with Muirfield, looks increasingly dusty and left behind.

That is the significance of the General Synod's decision. It increases the pressure on those who still resist inviting women into their organisations or institutions.

It makes their arguments look like the simple old-fashioned prejudice they are. Also, it is dreadful PR, an important consideration in our image conscious world.

With women accounting for half of the workforce, embracing equality is clearly, the right thing to do, to coin the Prime Minister's favourite phrase.

There are one million women-led businesses in the UK contributing £70 billion a year to the economy. That is about one-fifth of all business. (In America women run one-third.)

But hurdles remain. Men, for example, are twice as likely to set up a business. But it isn't just about women being risk averse or failing to get finance. There is an aspirational gap.

Even in the younger generation, women will aim for a career as an employee. There are 13 million in jobs at the moment and 400,000 self-employed people.

Yet those women who become employees have a raw deal, according to a recent report by Enders Analysis. Although they started out earning almost as much as their male colleagues, by the time they were 30, those in full-time work earned an average of 21 per cent less. Even in the professions (where women are becoming the majority) their pay was 18 per cent lower.

And the further up the hierarchy women go, the more scant is their representation.

Fewer female senior executives results in paltry executive representation on boards; and so the scandal of unequal pay persists.

Although it makes economic sense for more women to become entrepreneurs and to determine their own income, Enders pointed out that they lack role models. That's why it is so important to see women coming to the fore in every aspect of life. A further million entrepreneurs could mean a further £70bn or more in income a year. It makes sense for the economy.

Where women are tripped up, generation after generation, is on the baby question. But since the UK has the highest birth rate in Europe, it's a question that can no longer be left to individual mothers to address.

An increasing population needs women to produce economic growth. So it follows that society needs to address the issue of child care.

At the moment it is beggaring young families. The state needs to ensure that child care is affordable while maintaining or raising the quality.

Women also bear the brunt of caring for elderly parents. Here, too, we need sensitive and compassionate ways of intervening.

If I sound as if I am banging a drum, it is because I am. I saw a cartoon yesterday that dated back to the early 1900s. It shows a benighted husband clutching two babies while his wife sits in bed haranguing him. The caption reads: 'The Suffragist at Home - We don't know what we want but we'll get it.'

I'm afraid that, a century later, that attitude persists, albeit in smaller pockets. It bewilders me.

In a society and an age in which equality is a determining principle, I fail to comprehend how those who discriminate on the grounds of gender are still getting away with it.

Perhaps it is naive to expect all men to have the grace and generosity to acknowledge women as their equals.

But society should become increasingly intolerant of their views and the effects on opportunity this can have. Women have proved themselves as able as men in all but brute physical prowess.

They do everything from flying passenger airlines to being high court judges and doctors. One runs the International monetary Fund. Some day a woman might be Archbishop of Canterbury - in time, why not Pope?

I remember thinking, when Obama became President of the United States, that the real breakthrough would be the day the world thought of him as the President, when the colour of his skin was ignored; when it was forgotten.

That day happened some time ago and it happened without anyone noticing.

Now that must happen with gender. I long for the day when women can rise to the highest jobs in equal numbers with men and command equal salaries.

I want them to be able to hold the highest positions and for this to be so normal that no-one comments on their gender.

The General Synod's decision has ushered in that day for the Church of England.

In doing so it has brought closer the era of women being fairly represented across our society, an era when their presence in equal numbers with men and on equal terms is taken for granted.

I hope it is here by 2018. Now that would make it a centenary to remember.

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