Davos 2018: UK premier condemns outdated sexist attitudes after charity dinner scandal

Theresa May said there was a lot of work today to promote women’s rights in Britain

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on January 25, 2018 in Davos, eastern Switzerland. / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI
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Theresa May, the British prime minister, has condemned the attitudes of men at the top of British business after revelations of a London charity dinner where hostesses were harassed and groped.

“I was frankly appalled when I read the report,” Mrs May said. “I thought that that sort of attitude of the objectification of women was something that was in the past. Sadly, what that event showed is that there is still a lot more work for us to do.”

The Presidents Club, which had raised millions of pounds for charity over several decades, said Wednesday it was closing itself down after an undercover reporter for the Financial Times described how the 130 hostesses serving at the men-only event had been told to wear skimpy outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party, many of them were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned, the paper said.

The scandal comes in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations that have rocked Hollywood and rippled outwards. May has lost two members of her own Cabinet to allegations of inappropriate behaviour.


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The prime minister said the solution wasn’t more rules. “This is about attitudes,” she said in a television interview with Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum. “It’s about saying that actually women are not objects just to be used by men, actually we are equals, we have our own position, our own abilities.”

Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi was at the dinner but said he left early because he felt uncomfortable. The minister was given a “dressing down” by the party’s disciplinary enforcer, according to reports.

The prime minister said she accepted Zahawi’s explanation. “I understand that Nadhim was uncomfortable about what happened at the dinner and left the dinner on that basis,” she said.

Mrs May’s comments came before she spoke at the World Economic Forum, where she echoed French president Emmanuel Macron’s call for ethical rules surrounding the use of artificial intelligence that has the potential to replace millions of jobs.

She cited the case of car-hailing service Uber as an example of an emerging technology that had got things wrong.

The app’s management is embroiled in a dispute with London transport officials over issues such as checks on drivers and crime reporting. She told the conference the intention was not to “shut Uber down” but to address the problems.