Of course Britain is not the world’s most sexist country. But then that wasn’t what the UN special rapporteur on violence against women said yesterday, as she concluded her fortnight-long inspection of the UK. What Rashida Manjoo actually reported was that sexism is “more visible” in Britain than in other countries she has visited, which include Algeria, Somalia, Jordan, Azerbaijan and India. Still, quite a claim.
Not a claim, though, that should be dismissed out of hand – despite the sights offered by alternative package tours that might take in, say, Saudi Arabia (where women are banned from driving), Afghanistan (extra-judicial executions for adultery), Guinea (near-universal female genital mutilation) or the United States (no paid maternity leave).
Ms Manjoo was concerned by what she saw as “pervasive” sexualisation of women and girls in British media and advertising, by sexual bullying and harassment in schools, the disproportionate impact upon women of public spending cuts, and the justice system routinely failing victims of violence.
We are global leaders in public health, tolerance, science, technology, finance, philanthropy and learning – but not in equal opportunities for the 51 per cent of our population born with ovaries. A country that has so few women in high political office or in Parliament, with so few running its biggest companies, has little room for complacency. Aside from the unfairness, we’re squandering the talents of a huge part of our population.
Reacting to yesterday’s UN claims, Laura Bates, who runs the superb Everyday Sexism project, pointed out that it is not only the responsibility of government to tackle sexist culture. She added: “We still have gender inequality in the UK, yet we are so quick to point the finger at other countries and suggest women here are equal.”