British women on the march? Cabinet, Anglican Church boost gender equality.

The last few days have seen British women gain, both through David Cameron's decision to reshuffle his cabinet and the Church of England's vote to approve women bishops.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
Britain's Secretary of State for Employment Esther McVey arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London today. Ms. McVey will now sit on the cabinet as part of British Prime Minister David Cameron's biggest reshuffle of top government jobs ahead of next year's general election.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet shakeup may largely be about the tough political campaign coming with next year's general election.

But in discarding the "male, pale, and stale” leaders around him (as one headline put it), he’s given a boost to women during a promising week for gender equality in Britain. And there are further positive signs coming from one of Mr. Cameron's chief irritants in Europe.

Cameron’s reshuffle of his cabinet, which comes ten months before a hotly contested national election, garnered the most headlines for the resignation of Foreign Secretary William Hague. He’s being replaced by a man, Philip Hammond.

But the changes at the top gave more space to women in power, after complaints that Britain’s ruling elite suffered from gender imbalance. Those nominations, which boost the cabinet positions held by women by two, include Nicky Morgan as education secretary and Liz Truss as environment secretary.

The Daily Telegraph called it a "cull of the middle-aged white men.” It was the Financial Times who headlined: “David Cameron discards the ‘male, pale, and stale’ in reshuffle.”

The news follows the Church of England's historic decision yesterday to allow women to become bishops, ending a two-decade dispute – and centuries of history.

Cameron was one of the first to react, calling it a “great day for the church and for equality.”

The dispute had threatened to rip the Anglican Communion, which counts 77 million members in more than 160 countries, apart. The vote, in the General Synod, passed easily in each of the three houses that comprise the church’s national assembly, but not everyone is on board.

"As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote I am also mindful of whose within the church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow," said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

And in Europe, Jean-Claude Juncker was voted in today as next president of the European Commission, after a vote in the EU parliament. His rise finds many foes in Britain. It was Cameron, fearing that Mr. Juncker is an obstacle to his promise to reform the EU, who unsuccessfully attempted to block his bid in the first place.

Still, it could be another boon for women, whether they be in London, Lisbon, or Luxembourg.

In addition to the president, each member nation of the EU gets a commissioner. Those nominations are made between each member state and the president. Juncker has said he wants more women at the table, reportedly even promising plusher jobs for the countries that field women for the posts.

According to the EU Observer, the women on the current commission – 9 of 28 – said they’d support his nomination if he pressures EU governments to put forward more women candidates for the next EU executive.

Earlier Juncker had told Bild am Sonntag in Germany that women were part of his vision for the next commission. "The parliament does not want to approve a Commission with too few women," he told the daily. "And I don't either." 

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