Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The feminist agenda? Let’s do the time warp again!

The good news last week was that the UK government has published plans to reform the murder laws, specifically to ensure that an effective defence be made available to women who murder their partners after prolonged and violent abuse.

Interviewed on Women’s Hour about this and, more generally, about the June 2008 white paper on equality, Minister for Women Harriet Harman was quizzed as to whether her “promotion of the feminist agenda” might add to the government’s current problems, merely serving to further weaken Gordon Brown’s position. It was even mooted that this might be part of Harman’s strategy in a potential leader contest.

I found these questions quite outrageous, given that we have had the Sex Discrimination Act since 1975, the Equal Opportunities Commission for 30 years and a new combined Commission for Equality and Human Rights since autumn 2007. One would expect that “the feminist agenda” (that is, active promotion of gender equality and the rights of women) to be automatically an integral part the agenda of each MP and every individual in our society.

In fact, the recent draft Equality Bill – supported by all major political parties, by the way (Hansard Debates for June 28 2008) – does little more than restate a number of previous government policy commitments, for example the legality of choosing a female over an equally qualified male candidate where women are under-represented in the workforce; an end to age discrimination; measures to increase the number of black MPs in Westminster; and an equality duty on the public sector. This is not new news.

However, at every turn we see resurrected the harbingers of doom decrying “the unleashing of the spectre of positive discrimination” (see The Spectator)
as if this would mean the undoing of modern society as we know it. These pundits overlook the fact that “positive discrimination” in favour of men has been operating for the past four or five thousand years, culminating now in irreversible climate change, the international credit crunch, the food security crisis and violent conflicts around the world.

And so, quite rightly, a radical change is overdue. In July I attended the 10th Women’s Worlds Congress (this year in Madrid) where these issues and many more were explored. A couple of my reports were published by on creativity and dissidence

and women in the global economy – just to give a flavour of the diversity of topics. My summary below attempts to capture some of the inherent contradictions of this regular event which, since 1981, continues to highlight women’s potential alongside our subordinate position in a man’s world – where even a Minister for Women is required to justify her engagement in equality and where feminism is still seen as a minority interest rather than a mainstream project.

Read more

Boys may under-perform but it is women who are underpaid

Solidarity, sustainability and nonviolence

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