What you will learn
In this module you will learn practical ways to make a difference: how to use the legislation as part of a wider campaign to influence the development of policy and the provision of services. You will also learn about local strategies and ways to use legislation to back your campaign e.g. the Freedom of Information Act and Judicial Reviews. You will find examples of women successfully challenging decision-makers and the real impact this makes in women’s lives.
The provision of legislation does not mean inequalities and rights abuses are automatically addressed. Legislation can only be properly enacted if there is wider understanding behind it. The earlier sections have shown media articles with negative stories on inequalities and human rights. These stories usually arise as a response to any proposed change in ideology and power, proposed in order to address inequalities.
Every society has groups with more power and control over others. This power is reinforced by an ideology. Ideologies are complex structures of beliefs, values and attitudes that are reinforced through institutions such as the family, religion, education, media and the law. The prevalent ideology is usually invisible to most people and it is only when change is proposed that it becomes visible. The suffragette movement provides a lens to view this hostility to change as reflected by the speeches of many politicians and religious leaders in response to women campaigning for the right to vote.
“it would alter the whole tone of Parliament … The way in which certain types of women, easily recognised, have acted in the last year or two, especially in the last few weeks, lends a great deal of colour to the argument that the mental equilibrium of the female sex is not as stable as the mental equilibrium of the male sex. The argument has very strong scientific backing … It appears to me that it is one of the fundamental truths on which all civilisations have been built up, that it is men who have made and controlled the State, and I cannot help thinking that any country which departs from that principle must be undertaking an experiment which in the end will prove to be exceedingly dangerous.”
Viscount Helmsley, speaking at the debate on the ‘Conciliation’ Bill, to enfranchise about 1 million Women voters, 28 March 1912
Women in the UK still face inequalities as evidenced by economic inequality, poor support for care responsibilities and increasing violence against them. Any analysis of powerful positions in politics, the media, religious institutions, judicial institutions and in business shows this inequality in the significant under-representation of women. To bring change to ensure women’s rights will need more than the legislation. It will require campaigns and education to raise awareness of structural inequalities that women face, to change attitudes and behaviour and lead to public backing for policy changes to ensure substantive equality for women.
How can legislation help campaigns?
The law can be a great tool for reminding public authorities of their duties, holding decision-makers to account, and challenging decisions that discriminate or treat women unfairly. The law is also important to raise awareness of rights and equality issues, recommend good practice, inform rights-holders about what they are entitled to, and help to change the culture. You can use this to make the case to decision makers including public bodies, MPs, local councils, MEPs, funders etc.