As an ‘old school’ feminist, I bow to nobody in my capacity to break down the barriers, intentional or merely misogynist-instinctive, erected by the male sex to deny women equality. Despite successive legislative measures and the lip-service paid to pay-equality, for example, the still rock-solid pay-gap that exists between men and women doing the same or equivalent jobs has the capacity to raise my hackles on a weekly basis.
That said – and I know that this view will not be popular in some sisterhood circles – I’m not blind to the practical facts of life.
In the UK and other well-established Western democracies, we’re still protesting from the roof-tops about every last tiny vestige of enshrined male dominance, yet simultaneously ignoring the far-greater outrages going on elsewhere in the world to which, by comparison, we’re living in Nirvana.
Female genital mutilation, forced marriages, marital servitude, educational denial, honour-killlings … the chilling list prevalent amongst less-enlightened and perhaps more primitive cultures could fill an exercise book. For example, who is confident that – once ‘the West’ has withdrawn from Afghanistan – that the Taliban will not return to power, de facto if not officially, and take the cause of women’s rights straight back to the Dark Ages? I’m not. Things are possibly just as bleak in Pakistan.
My point is that, viewed from the perspective of a starving mother of three in the depths of Somalia, the iniquities we middle-class chattering women in Britain rant against are about three galaxies away from anything she can relate to.
We need to reflect upon that now and again.
A case in point is the latest report from the charity Maternity Action, detailing the extent to which, despite all our anti-discrimination laws specifically designed to prevent it, working women who become pregnant are still being prevented from returning to their jobs and continuing their careers.
See here for a newspaper story on the subject – THE INDEPENDENT
Perhaps it is my stage of life and I am coming at the issue still soaked in decades of passive discrimination-acceptance, but I have a pragmatic approach to women and employment.
It seems to me that, in times of economic prosperity, advances in women’s right not to be discriminated against can develop apace. However, when the economic climate is tough – as it is now – such considerations may have to be subservient to the needs of commercial survival.
My friend Gill has a small ‘greetings card’ concern, employing just six people. In the past two years, two of her female employees have taken maternity leave and she has been regaling me with stark tales of the tribulations that our ‘anti-discrimination’ laws have visited upon her business. Holding those job positions open for nearly a year … without being able to even ask when – indeed if – the ‘new’ mother is intending to return has been a running nightmare.