A quick read of the history of women in the civil service will throw up some very obvious examples of the sort of blatant direct sex discrimination that women have had to put up with over the years.
Sex discrimination like the fact that women’s pay scales were lower than those of men of the same grade until 1961 and that the marriage bar (which persisted in the foreign service until 1973) prohibited married women from joining, and required women civil servants to resign when they became married.
To give you some sense of how some things have changed significantly, the UK Government only started employing women in 1869 and now, 150 years later, two thirds of their workforce is female. Something which is mirrored across the entire public sector, including local Government, and means that a lot of decisions about how tax payer’s hard earned money is spent will be made by someone from the fairer side of the gender spectrum.
Since the 1970’s the UK Government has had a legal duty as an employer (and service provider ) to remove barriers caused by individual or institutional discrimination and since 2007 they have also had a more proactive duty to ensure when carrying out their public function that they have:
Due regard to: advance equality of opportunity for those with protected characteristics (such as sex) [and] Thereby: remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by people with protected characteristics and meet needs of those if different from needs of other people.
This is known as the equality duty and means that Civil Servants have to show that they have actively considered how a function or service affects different groups of people in different ways, based on differences like age, disability, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
So some Public Servants are paid handsomely to collect as much relevant data / statistics as possible and talk to as many concerned stakeholders as they can find. Which in turn means that the more people you have to make their job easier by offering up data, and speaking in support of the issues affecting your corner, then the harder it is for the people making the big decisions with public money to ignore you, especially if they fear that it could be politically damaging to do so.
A stark and dramatic example of how this can play out can be seen in the provision of services to victims of domestic abuse. The woman’s movement are to be commended for their hard work over the years to get the issue of domestic abuse acknowledged, talked about publically and legislated against. They are also to be commended for developing a significant infrastructure of services to support victims over the years which are now integral to, and inextricably linked with, the services that the tax payer pays for in this area.
The problem is that the general consensus, within an almost exclusively female workforce, is that men and women need to go their own way when it comes to getting help. Which is fair enough as far as it’s fair enough but in 2015 it also means that male victims are doubly damned because millions of pounds of public money is spent annually sustaining a vibrant, organised and relatively militant woman’s sector who lobby specifically on behalf of female victims only.
In all fairness to the Senior figures in that sector, and whether they really believe it or not, if your job is to secure funding for a female only service employing female only professionals, then it’s in your interest to, at best severely downplay the experience of male victims and at worst portray them as part of the exclusively patriarchal perpetrator problem.
The Equality Act should not be interpreted to mean that both sexes should be treated the same. Single sex services are permitted where it can be shown to be the most effective way of providing those services or where the service is needed by one sex only.” Equality Act 2010, Schedule 3, Part 7
Which is why the Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Aid probably won’t make a big deal about the fact that it’s widely accepted that men are much more reluctant to disclose experiences of domestic violence and that the Home Office only started even estimating the size of the problem in 2004. But it probably has something very much to do with why she can interpret their statistics in entirely different ways depending on why you’re asking.
Depending on who you talk to you can get very different views on the causes and consequences of domestic violence, which is one obvious reason why male victims need someone championing their corner, especially when some people believe radical feminists are capable of resorting to pretty nasty bullying tactics in order to dominate the debate (including violence).
Because the one thing that most will agree on is that the difference in help available to victims of domestic violence is starkly different depending on who you are.
MP Jess Phillips didn’t mince her words when she tried to silence a debate on men’s issues recently. As far as she was concerned, every day is International Men’s Day so we can have our little debate when women in Parliament finally have parity.
Which is a bit rich coming from someone who has spent most of her working life in an industry that applies an extremely generous interpretation of exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act to exclude men entirely from both employment and more importantly access to services.
Until the introduction of the public sector equality duty threatened their monopoly on statutory funding, some branches of Women’s Aid even specifically omitted sex from the grounds acknowledged in their equal opportunity statement (race, diability etc) and refused to provide refuge to any male children over the age of 12.
The Guardian may proclaim that the new suffragettes are a group called Sister Uncut. who are comprised mainly of women working in the sector but what they won’t mention is that they’ve made it their mission statement to protest against cuts to specialist services for victims of domestic violence, with ONE very specific and blatantly sexist exception.
Which is just one obvious reason why, after all the deliberately distracting dismissive laughter has died down, we need to get on with acknowledging the very important fact that anyone serious about feminism in the 21st century should be supporting male rights advocacy right now, rather than waiting for whatever Jess Phillip’s personal perception of parity might be.