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

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Supply Teachers Required

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of Pay, Excellent CPD : Randstad Educati...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) stands next British Prime Minister David Cameron (R) as he signs the guestbook during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential compound in Jerusalem on March 12, 2014.  

The truth about the UK's pro-Israel lobbies

Mira Bar Hillel
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor