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Reform Magazine | May 21, 2018

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A good question: Are things getting better for women?

A good question: Are things getting better for women?

One question, four answers

DAWN BUTLER MP
‘Things are better for some women’

Women have made a lot of progress but there’s lots more to do. And some women have made much more progress than others.

We can’t answer the general question of whether the experience of women has changed for the better without reflecting on the persistent inequalities relating to class and ethnicity as well as gender. Right now, my personal priority – and that of the Labour party – is to fight for all rights across the board and understand and appreciate the intersectionality of women, because women who are disabled, working class or from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background will not simply wait for their turn.

Economic equality – closing the gender pay gap – is a key issue but it is not the only one. Tackling domestic abuse, violence against women and girls and sexual harassment are all issues that must be weighed in answering the question of whether women’s experience has improved. The good thing is that these issues are now out in the open, thanks in part to the sharing of experience through social media, particularly the #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns. These campaigns are springboards to greater action, to establish true equality and to embed it in all parts of our economy and society.

It’s 100 years since some women got the vote – those over 30. And it’s 50 years since the Equal Pay Act. We need to increase the pace of change…

Dawn Butler MP is the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

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CLAIRE HEUCHAN
‘Movements like #MeToo offer a reason to be optimistic’

We live in a world where over a third of women will experience violence within their lifetime. The problem is far-reaching and deep-rooted. And yet, with movements like #MeToo shaping international conversations about sexual violence, there is reason to be optimistic.

Founded by community organiser Tanara Burke, the #MeToo movement gained traction when actor Alyssa Milano invited people to use the social media hashtag. Within 24 hours, #MeToo had gone viral. The hashtag provided a much-needed outlet for truths often buried – a repression which leaves survivors to carry the trauma while abusers, too often, escape consequence.

Women’s widespread disclosure of experiencing sexual assault is powerful to witness. Women being open about their experiences of assault created the space other women needed to do the same. Their radical honesty shone a spotlight on men’s violence, showing just how deeply-rooted this endemic is in the fabric of society. It demands accountability rather than allowing the issue to be swept under the carpet with a round of justifications that prop up rape culture.

Historically, stigma has been attached to victims as opposed to perpetrators of sexual violence. Silence around forms of sexual abuse is what enables this, allowing perpetrators to hide in plain sight and the issues to be glossed over as part of how things work. Breaking that silence, as countless women have done through #MeToo, is a necessary step…

Claire Heuchan is a writer and blogs at sisteroutrider.wordpress.com. Her first book, What is Race? Who are Racists? Why Does Skin Colour Matter? And Other Big Questions, co-authored with Nikesh Shukla, is published by Wayland Books in October

SHARON WEISS-GREENBERG
‘Change is difficult to prove. But the paradigm has shifted’

What does better look like for women in a religion where historically men made all the decisions? In short, Judaism at large is obsessed with questions. Our primarily male rabbinic texts, penned over millennia, grapple with both pragmatic questions and hypothetical scenarios. Oftentimes, the questions illuminate far more about the norms, mores and modus operandi of the periods of history during which said questions were asked, than what the answers to those questions might be.

For example, it seems that Jewish women were career women in medieval times because questions were posed that arose during their travel and other business hurdles. Questions shed light on what the people were grappling with. When it concerns women, we do not witness all that much discomfort or grappling with matters relating to feminism or equality until recent times. We do not start seeing women rabbis systematically until the 1970s in the Reform movement, the 1980s in Conservative Jewry and the 2000s in Orthodox Judaism, where it is still a battle in many circles today.

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (Jofa) was founded in 1997 because Blu Greenberg, the founding President, and other lay leaders felt that it was time to ask those challenging questions…

Sharon Weiss-Greenberg is Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, New York

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EMMA PERCY
‘The Church has accepted women – but not fully’

My answer to this question is typically Anglican; ‘Yes, but…’ The Church of England will celebrate 25 years of women priests next year. These women have changed the face of the Church for many. Their ministry is welcomed and valued by communities all over the country, so, for the women God calls into ministry, things are better. Some cathedrals have women deans, and there are a good number of women archdeacons. We also now have women bishops. But though the image of a woman in purple is becoming more common, we have yet to see what impact they make in creating a more gender inclusive culture.

Women make up a much higher percentage of non-paid clergy. Many women working voluntarily for the Church report being marginalised from decisionmaking and feeling misunderstood or underappreciated. Issues of deployment, age and caring responsibilities seem to increase the likelihood that women will take on unpaid roles. In this respect, it is hard to say whether things are getting better. Practical issues like a universally agreed maternity policy, decent harassment policies and the development of good part-time roles all seem to be low priority for those who could make a difference.

Where a diocesan bishop does not ordain women, it is not so easy for women to flourish. Some dioceses have no women on the senior staff, and in all diocese, women are the minority…

Emma Percy is Chair of Women and the Church (Watch) – a gender equality campaign group within the Church of England


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These are extracts from an article that was published in the May 2018 edition of  Reform

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