When it comes to issues of equality, it’s not size that counts

A guest post from Lisa Glass criticising framings of gender equality as a minor issue in comparison to other human rights concerns.


Feminism needs to “get in the queue”, suggests author Naomi Wolf. When asked by the New Statesman, “If feminists could campaign on only one issue over the next year, what should it be?” she replied, “Feminists should campaign to end the department of homeland security and repeal the National Defence Authorisation Act and the Patriot Act, because there won’t be any feminism or dissent of any kind if there ain’t no bill of rights. First things first.” I could not agree more with the argument that a bill of human rights is a crucial to the concept of a fair and democratic society, but as a response to the question, posed to mark International Women’s Day, a ‘first things first’ message is unhelpful. Since women are also human, their rights should be seen as an intrinsic to an all-encompassing bill of human rights. Feminism should not be seen as something at odds with that.

Daniel Knowles in the Telegraph makes a similar point at the end of his article, ‘Don’t worry, my feminist friends: you’re winning’, asking us to consider, “who has more opportunities, a working-class boy born to unemployed parents on a council estate in Glasgow, or a middle-class girl born in a farmhouse in Surrey?” He suggests that now girls do better at school and that more women attend university, the ‘battle’ has been won. Great, girls do well at school and are now allowed to attend university (and with many students now paying fees of up to £9K per course, I doubt many universities would ban students on the basis of gender). Post-education, however, unemployment for women is currently at a 25-year high, a fact that is ignored in this article.

The message in some sections of the media seems to be that in a time of austerity, gender equality is a minor issue when you consider overall national and global pictures of poverty and suffering. But it is a fact that women as a group often suffer the most economically, as discussed in this article on the ‘feminisation’ of poverty. Not only that, but for single mothers in particular, there is a lack of respect that often runs to outright hostility.

Consider who decides what the ‘big issues’ are as presented in the media and question why something as fundamental as gender equality should be sidelined. Equality for oppressed groups should not be a luxury, possible only in times of plenty. It should underpin the fundamental functioning of a civilized society. By bringing “smaller” issues to light we are exposing flaws that run much deeper than the surface.

Lisa Glass is a London-based feminist writer and editor who will be soon starting a PhD in Gender Studies.

Public domain image shared under a Creative Commons license (author unknown). This is a feminism symbol in white on a purple background. It shows the circle with a cross at the bottom, typically coded as female, with a clenched fist coming up from the cross into the middle of the circle.