For anyone concerned with feminist issues, it’s been quite a week. It started with the Women’s Day of Action, marking the first anniversary of the giant global marches following the election of Donald Trump.
I was in Sheffield for that, where 200 people defied awful weather conditions on a Sunday morning to declare “It’s Time” – time for change, time for full human and legal rights for half the human population, time for respect. It was inspiring to see women, old and young (and many of the participants were still at school or college), getting together to say they’re not going to take the violence, the inequalities, the disrespect any more.
How far we’ve got to go in the UK on human and legal rights was set out by the Fawcett Society, which on Tuesday night launched its Sex Discrimination Law Review, headed by retired High Court judge Dame Laura Cox, at a packed event in Portcullis House. It produced a “to do” list of legal reforms needed that could keep parliament occupied for months – although we know it has the enormous, all-consuming nightmare of Brexit on its plate.
The political consensus of the night was that if we could get through the classification of misogyny as a hate crime (a campaign on which Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack has been focusing) that was about all that could immediately be hoped for. But the Fawcett Society checklist leaves us plenty else to be going on with.
And then we get to the reports of the Presidents’ Club dinner – a brilliant expose by the Financial Times that revealed for some parts of society, we’re got to go a lot further back to the basics: like not setting up a situation where powerful, rich men are invited to treat women like meat – and them not thinking this is in any way acceptable.
You have to wonder what the Tory families and children minister thought he was doing going to an all-male dinner with a mass of female hostesses.
I’m about to celebrate my 52nd birthday. I’ve been a feminist for 48 years and reading reports of the evening, I couldn’t help thinking that this was the kind of event I thought that we’d brought to an end decades ago.
As a young journalist in country Australia, I spent an excruciating evening at a football club presentation dinner, the only woman in the room. I wasn’t in physical danger, but I did endure an hour of non-stop innuendo and sexist jokes from the speakers (“dumb blondes” being a particular favourite), with the whole room turning to look see my reaction as they guffawed. Back then, this was regarded as normal.
It was nothing on the scale of what the Presidents Club hostesses endured, but it was excruciating. It was a football club, and “locker-room culture” – a culture that clearly endures in British business at what’s been described as the “peak” of British society and business.
Any wonder that we’re trailing in global legal tables of women in business, women in parliament, women in the media – when an event such as this is considered acceptable.
At the Fawcett event, Dame Cox expressed the hope that her five-year-old granddaughter wouldn’t have to be fighting the same battles we’re fighting now in 20 years’ time.
But the Presidents Club reveals just how even battles we’ve thought we’ve won can keep having to be fought again and again. The Fawcett report pointed to the need to reintroduce Section 40 of the Equality Act to guarantee legal protection for workers against third parties (something that might have been used by the Presidents Club hostesses).
But the #METoo campaign, the women’s march and the Fawcett Society report are all signs that we’re ready, we’re determined and saying time finally, definitively, has to be up on sexism, discrimination and violence.