Imagine a martian fell to earth, what would they notice? That half the human race is overtly diminished in a subtle way. And that this inequality does not benefit the other half.
Shami Chakrabarti, Baroness, CBE and member of the House of Lords, spoke eloquently on the ‘apartheid’ (a word she chose deliberately) that shapes modern gender inequality.
In front of a packed crowd at We The Curious, she explained the thinking behind her latest book, Of Women. She envisages a world where women are ambitious, legally vocal and free from invisible structural oppression.
It has been a year since Trump’s election, and we are living with the shockwave of the Weinstein scandal. We’ve witnessed a sea change; but Chakrabarti believes that women are still fundamentally disadvantaged. Women learn, earn and govern less, influence less and face emotional, sexual and physical violence across the world. It is in this context that she set out to explore the three key themes in her talk, and her book:
1. Socio-political power
Since the election of Trump there have been worrying signals sent to men and boys. Misogyny isn’t new, but it is on the rise. What is the solution?
Perhaps we need to acknowledge that in America, more white women voted for Trump than for Clinton. Women are half the planet, but we have conflicting loyalties to families, classes, regions, races and political ideologies.
Chakrabarti believes women are still silenced by legal structures. Even in the wake of #MeToo, women need to better voice their experiences. Feminism shouldn’t be seen as a single issue. It cannot be separated from any aspect of women’s lives, especially now the world has been made small by the internet.
The real shift needs to happen in socio-economic power. Chakrabarti argued that the best solution to the growth of misogyny is affirmative action. More women are needed on the board table, in politics and in legal structures, and a quota system would kick start this. Instead of expecting change to happen gradually, Chakrabarti wants to push for gender parity now.
One of the biggest issues facing modern women is access to housing, which Chakrabarti argued should be a basic human right. As property is becoming increasing commoditised, it is causing rising inequality for men, women and children. But women are the most vulnerable to this.
Modern pressures put stresses on the now, ‘not-so nuclear’ family. More and more women are finding themselves trapped in unhealthy relationships due to housing constraints. With an out of control property market, an important part of solving gender equality should be access to social housing.
In this idealistic future that Chakrabarti pictures, childcare is shared, communities run as deeply as family and housing is designed with this in mind. Is this feasible? In her book, she argues compelling that it is possible, with the right amount of political pressure being exerted by a unified front.
There is some good news. In the last century the developed world has moved to universal secondary education. The benefits to women for every extra year spent in education for their health, wealth and happiness are marked. There has been huge progress for girls accessing education, and in many areas girls now outnumber and outperform boys in this field. However, this is not translated into the workplace. Girls are not putting themselves forward in STEM subjects, and women scientists and engineers stories aren’t being told to inspire future generations.
We are close to the 50th anniversary of equal pay act. Yet we still live in a world where equal pay legislation has no teeth, where female immigrants find themselves incarcerated without an end in sight. What would the suffragettes make of this world? Gender injustice is the greatest blight on our planet, and would stand out to any extraterrestrial visitor. It’s no exaggeration to call it apartheid, because an ancient and continuing wrong is still continuing.
Chakrabarti argued that the time is coming for affirmative action. More women in boardrooms, better equal pay legislation and perhaps, even, an opening of companies’ books to audit for equal pay. The future is about transparency, with teeth.