Women continue to experience a number of practices within our society that are directly harmful to them (I write as a man) or are significantly prejudicial to their interests. Our society is also permeated by a number of attitudes to women and representations of them in the media etc that underpin and encourage these practices.
It might therefore seem logical to concentrate on the causes of these practices i.e. the negative attitudes and representations, as the best means of putting a permanent end to the practices that harm or disadvantage women. The fact that many of these practices operate in environments where direct intervention by government or the authorities is difficult – the home, the playground, bars, canteens etc – renders cultural initiatives designed to change the nature of these environments attractive.
There are, though, difficulties in prioritising efforts in changing attitudes and representations. Firstly, there is the intractability of these cultural phenomena, making change slow-paced and uncertain. And then there is the seriousness of the effect of many of the practices on individual groups of women or even on the majority of women. This suggests that dealing directly with certain practices rather than with their causes should, for the time being, be the priority; even if the realms in which action can be effective are limited.
Examples of practices that should (from my admittedly male perspective) and can be tackled, and possible ways of doing so, are as follows:
- A targeting of domestic violence as a major law and order issue for the country.
- Setting up a Royal Commission into differentials in pay and promotion prospects between men and women with a view to identifying any legislative changes or actions on the part of employers that would reduce this inequality.
- Changes to legal procedures that would protect and encourage victims of sexual assault in coming forward and would increase the chances of successful convictions (e.g. allowing victims to give evidence by video and to undergo cross-examination in writing rather than orally).
- Placing a statutory duty on political parties to take all necessary steps to achieve a particular proportion of female MPs by a particular date (e.g. 40% by 2025).
- Greater legal protection for workers in the sex industry and strict enforcement of these protections by the police.
When women receive equal protection under the law, are equally rewarded for their efforts, and are equally represented in the running of the country, it will then be time to focus fully on the attitudes and representations that do much to impair their daily lives.