Leading article: Our culture promotes bias and inequality

Share

Cherie Booth's first major public speech since leaving Downing Street was on a subject that has always been close to her heart: women's rights. The high-flying human rights lawyer and wife of the former Prime Minister pointed out at Chatham House yesterday that "cultural differences" are no excuse for barriers to equality between men and women. She argued that religiously-sanctioned discrimination against women results from the misinterpretation of religious texts by male clerics. She also criticised those in the West who attempt to explain away institutionalised injustice against women on the grounds of cultural relativism. Violence and discrimination against women should be condemned by democratic societies wherever they occur. As Ms Booth put it: "Women's rights are not a luxury of the rich world".

This is all true. But something was missing. Why did Ms Booth not single out particular regimes for failing to curb, or in some cases for actively promoting, such abhorrent misogyny and discrimination? The head of one of them happens to be paying a state visit to Britain at the moment. Ms Booth's defence of Saudi Arabia in a radio interview yesterday was not convincing. It may be the case, as she pointed out, that some Saudi women are permitted to attend university and run businesses. But the fact is that the vast majority are not allowed out of the home unless accompanied by a male relative. Ms Booth stressed the importance of Britain's maintaining a dialogue with the Saudi royal family. Maybe so, but should we be treating them to the full honours of a state visit? What message does this send to women and true reformers in the desert kingdom?

Nor should the Saudi regime have been Ms Booth's only target. There is an institutionalised bias against women in law courts and justice systems across Asia and Africa. The courts fail to take rape and domestic violence allegations seriously in Pakistan. So-called "honour killings" in Jordan tend to result in ridiculously lenient sentences. There is worrying evidence that female foetuses, identified with the aid of ultrasound technology, are being singled out for abortion by parents in India with the collusion of medical professionals. Thanks to the state's "one child" policy, female babies are being abandoned to die in rural China, which is resulting in a severe anti-female demographic distortion. Economic injustice is rife, too. In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, women produce some 80 per cent of basic foodstuffs, but many go unpaid. Across the world, women tend to perform lower-status jobs than men. The gap in educational opportunities is still glaring. Three-quarters of the world's 876 million illiterate adults are women.

Ms Booth could also have been more forthright about the inadequate status of women, even here in Britain. The old glass ceiling that prevents women from rising beyond a certain level in a great many professions may have begun to crack, but it has not yet been shattered. Unequal pay for equal work is prevalent across the workplace. And sexual violence remains more of a problem than many will admit. Despite some improvements in police attitudes, the conviction rates for the crime of rape are still scandalously low.

Our culture unwittingly promotes this bias against women. The rampant objectification and stereotyping of women in the media and advertising has a negative effect on the emotional development of our children. As well as encouraging the rest of the world to treat women equitably, we should be putting our own house in order.

Ms Booth picked a deserving subject. It is simply a pity that she chose to pull her punches.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ofsted said "A good larger...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Learning Support A...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Ed Miliband on low pay; Alan Johnson on Betjeman; Tom Freeman on editing

John Rentoul
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments