The Fawcett Society has launched a major, high press challenge against the government's spending cuts to child benefit and benefit cuts in general.
Controversially, as a feminist, I disagree with this action.
Ultimately, I feel this hinders the gender equality debate, is a poor use of legislation and does not represent a true equality impact assessment of the spending cuts in line with other legislation.
Do the Spending Cuts Disproportionally Discriminate against Women?
Flexible Working and the Public Sector
The Fawcett Society states that "65% of public sector employees are women". It then goes on to illustrate why two thirds of civil servant employees are in fact female. Firstly, it is because the public sector has far more stringent flexible working schemes, equal opportunities governance and care related policies than the private sector.
By campaigning against the spending cuts to the public sector, all the Fawcett Society appears to be achieving, to me, is preserving the public sector as the best equal opportunities employer in the country. This immediately implies that these women would be unlikely to seek employment opportunities outside the public sector because practices are not as adequate.
Therefore, the debate is not about the cuts to the public sector, but in fact about how inadequate private corporations in the UK are at providing equal opportunities in employment for women, caregivers and those who seek flexible working schemes.
By enforcing major budget cuts on the public sector, this would significantly increase job seekers into the market who do not just seek flexible working, but insist upon flexible working. This would force companies into applying more suitable flexible working policies, and seek better ways of functioning with a level playing field of diversity strands.
The Fawcett Society may succeed in their legal challenge, but all this would do with secure a narrow field in which women can work and allow private companies to continue to discriminate against women and diversity strands.
The Fawcett Society is responding to the sociological issue that women are, in the majority of cases, the main child rearers.
This is not a response to the amount of money these women receive, whether from benefits or employment, but in fact a response to the entrenched notion of discrimination within the family unit that the society has failed to address since the onset of second wave feminism in the 1960s.
Gender discrimination and patriarchy remain truly embedded within society through a variety of means. All the time we allow women to be considered as the "caring, mother figure" stereotype, we persist in the notion that women nest and men build.
Sexual liberation in the 1960s allowed women to have sex with a much lower risk of pregnancy thereby allowing them a far greater choice of partner prior to embracing family life.
However, the barriers still exist post commencing that relationship. Once she selected her partner, she is still expected to undertake certain roles within that relationship. This includes being the one to take leave for nine months to two years when a child enters the relationship. While a leave of absence is reasonable for women that have given birth, the assumptions of "biological destiny", "bonding" and the interdependent relationships indicated within society between mother and child ensure that the woman feels guilty for not taking for maternity leave, feels guilty when she is struggling with a variety of related child rearing issues, feels secondary to her child and is obligated by the sociopolitical landscape to fulfil these roles.
The Fawcett Society challenge to spending cuts perpetuates the concept of the woman of the child rearer, thereby inadvertently preventing the positions of women within society from changing to a more equal stance within the workplace.
The limiting of child benefit may in fact assist to reposition the role of the female as a potential to be an equal or main earner within the family; dependent on meritocracy and not upon negative and perceived social roles.
There is an entire range of gender equality legislation now available for use within the UK. But all the time that negative sociopolitical concepts of the roles of women within the home, the workplace, or career style, persists, all challengers are effectively moot.
Legislation from the EU indicates that you cannot discriminate against gender on the basis of goods and services. However, we still see gender stereotyping in marketing, advertising and merchandise as well as in the services surrounding capitalism in the UK.
The legislation should be strategic and proactive, enforcing companies and service providers to take into account equality impact on gender.
However, persistent messages such as "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" in advertising, education, and social media seem to be so entrenched, that no one even considered challenging them.
I recently submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority with regards to an advert for Dove on the television. This is particularly targeted at men with a voice over detailing how fantastic it was to be male, including lifting the entitlements of the man within society and the role and gender rise masculinity that he should fulfil. I was informed by the Advertising Standard Authority that my complaint was not valid as I was the only person to complain.
What is the point of legislation if it does not exist to combat discrimination in these areas?
Instead, the Fawcett Society are using it as a reactive tool to discrimination. To combat discrimination against women based on these entrenched rules without both advising, consulting and instigating steps to erase such embedded notions from society, is what I consider to be a misuse of the legislation.
I'll go further, saying that it helps perpetuate negative connotations of "feminists" as angry, reactive, aggressive groups that do not put steps in place to rectify mistakes but simply battle against them when the impulse takes them.