Friday, 13 January 2012

Equality – a subjective value?

In the news today is David Cameron’s visit to Saudi Arabia to broaden the link between the two countries.

Interesting this! We censure countries where there is evidence of active discrimination against a group of people. Historically we have suspended or severed diplomatic relations, installed economically disruptive embargoes and even restricted aid in extreme cases.

So what about women in Saudi Arabia? Do they not count as a group denied basic equal rights? What about their rights to self-determination? Education? Travel? What about their rights to drive a car?

Do we think that’s ok? As individuals? As a nation? Obviously, as a nation we must do, given this visit.

Why is that? Er...oil!

Is this so much more important than the rights of a whole nation of women? Is it because they are women?

Now I do have a couple of caveats:

I do have an issue with anyone judging another and thinking they are superior or have got it right. I know there are Saudi women who campaign for change and want western cultures to understand that they want to use their own culture, religion and role models rather than campaign for rights which reflect western values and lifestyles.

And what about that entire splinter in your eye stuff? We have a far from perfect record on gender equality.

Women in the UK have historically been disadvantaged in many areas compared to men and still face barriers as a result of their gender. The Commission on Equalities and Human Rights report only a couple of years ago demonstrated a 60% pay gap between men and women in the financial sector. How many women lead FTSE 100 companies? How many women MPs are there? We have a long way to go.

And it’s not just about women’s rights in this country -it’s about looking at gender imbalances. There are far too few male primary school teachers and childcare workers and I think that should be seriously addressed as I think male role models for boys in education are essential. Although look at the percentage of male to female primary headteachers!

I really love this quote from the Baha’i Faith:  The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. This speaks so eloquently to me.

So what is the answer?

Well, for me, I am just grateful that I can travel without the permission of a male member of my family. I can vote. I can study law or architecture should I wish to. I can freely meet my friends – male and female both. I can drive a car.

And I think it’s wrong that we censure one country for their actions on human rights and support another - simply to suit our own interests. We are one world. One people. Including Saudi women.

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