The Life in the UK citizenship test: where are the women?

Earlier this year, the Life in the UK Immigration test was updated.  The test itself is made up of 24 questions, but these questions are selected at random from a pool of several hundred possible questions.  This is done to reduce the odds of two people in the same test room having the same test.

There have been some basic criticisms of the test, such as the shift from significant facts to trivial ones.  For example, there is no question in the exam pool asking for the number of MPs in the British Parliament.  There is however, a question asking for the height of Big Ben.  One would assume that the former point would be more useful than the latter.

A major issue noted in the press is the lack of emphasis on the achievements and history of British women throughout history.  Of the many historical figures discussed in the official training guide: Life in the UK – A Guide for Residents, 3rd Edition, only four women have birth and death dates listed (in comparison to thirty men).  The Queen is not one of them.  Additionally, there are no women authors quoted in the literature section, although there are approximately six men quoted.

The problem persists when we look to the sciences as well.  No women are mentioned during the discussion of scientific discoveries in the 20th century, even though Dorothy Hodgkin won the 1964 Noble Prize for Chemistry.  Similar issues occur in the visual arts and music sections.

The omission of women’s’ accomplishments from the new content is one problem with the test.  A second problem is the removal of information that was present in the older version of the test.  Specific information on maternity leave, NHS, childcare, and schooling has been dropped from the test and the training guide.

On a positive note, the newest version of the test does address the problems of domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and forced marriage.  It also includes the phone number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, in addition to the usual 999 emergency number.

One may argue that the content of the immigration test is a mirror to the government’s opinion on the true nature of equality between the sexes.  A government which proclaims that “We’re all in this together” should ensure that everyone is represented in the exam that describes the nation.

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