“The Green Party’s manifesto for gender equality is an important document, full of innovative as well as morally instructive policies. Many of these ideas are not politics as usual, and they deserve representation in the governing bodies of the UK. To #VoteGreen2017 is signal your support of these ideas, and to make sure that you’re represented in the House of Commons.”
“Legal regulation can accomplish its goals directly, through fear of sanctions or desire for rewards. But it can also do so indirectly, by changing attitudes about the regulated behaviors. Ironically, this indirect path can be the most efficient one, particularly if the regulation changes attitudes about the underlying morality of the behaviors.” – Bilz & Nadler, The Oxford Handbook of Behavioral Economics and the Law
On May 13, The Green Party launched its manifesto for gender equality at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. The manifesto suggests a number of policies that are meant to increase gender equality via different routes of legal regulation. I believe that legal regulation constitute of one the most efficient ways of facilitating wide-ranging behavioural and attitudinal changes, and I also believe that ensuring gender equality is essential in the process of creating a greener economy. To me, the most important aspects of this manifesto are therefore those that concern the safety and well-fare of women, as well as those that concern equality in the labour market. It is also my belief that the former category precedes the latter: namely, that we cannot achieve gender equality anywhere before the female body is worth as much as the male.
Why is legal regulation in the context of gender equality morally productive, and how does it benefit the (green) economy?
It is a commonly held view that human beings accept and follow laws which they believe to be just and reasonable. It is also commonly held that laws help shape and strengthen public perceptions about what is morally right. The law that ensures universal suffrage is one example of a law that encompasses both of these views. Although many 19th and early 20th century Britons may privately have believed in the moral benefits of allowing women to vote, legislative action was still required in order to render universal suffrage a publically accepted norm. A law that gives women the right to vote strengthens the perception that women and men are equals and that they therefore ought to have equal rights and opportunities to shape society. Conversely, where there is absence of law, perceptions of moral justice and injustice are undermined.
In the context of women’s welfare and safety, the Green Party’s pledge to de-criminalise prostitution presents itself as a particularly good example of how laws can serve to change moral perceptions and also protect certain members of society. The law that criminalises prostitution have two particularly damaging effects:
1) it effectively criminalises the right to own one’s body and, by implication, it labels prostitutes as deviants. In criminological terms, the concept known as labeling theory states “that deviance is a socially constructed process in which social control agencies designate certain people as deviants, and they, in turn, come to accept the label placed upon them and begin to act accordingly.” In other words: the criminalisation of prostitution associates women with a type of deviance that society purports to reject, and it therefore undermines the sovereignty of the female body.
2) it forces sex workers to operate outside of legally protected contexts. Their status as deviants imply that their physical sovereignty is compromised, to what end they risk physical and mental abuse by men who perceive them as without right.
To decriminalise prostitution is a measure that will protect the sovereignty of the female body, and it will remove the status as deviants from many women who have faced prosecution as a result of a legal framework that curtails their right to own their own bodies. It is my conviction that these kinds of measures will, in the long run, lead to changing perceptions about the status of the female body, and therefore I support this idea.
In terms of policies and legal regulations that increase equality on the labour market, the Green Party’s manifesto on gender equality contains plenty of promise on several fronts. Amongst these pledges, a few stand out as particularly exciting:
- 1. The initiative to “create Green jobs for more women in STEM in renewables and sustainability. Currently, just 5% of engineering apprentices are women. The Green Party would ensure that the roll-out of Green Jobs would be accompanied by specific initiatives to train and encourage young women, in particular, to fill these roles.”
A report released in 2010 by Raul Romeva MEP showed that female-dominated work sectors, such as retail and services, were among the worst affected by the financial crisis. These sectors generally tend to offer less job stability. As Britain becomes increasingly geared towards creating a greener, low-carbon economy, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that men and women have equal access to employment that will support this process. This pledge will see more women engaging in science, technology, engineering and math programmes, and will consequently serve to unlock unprecendented amounts of potential
- 2. The pledge to guarantee parental leave rights, regardless of gender.
One does not have to look far to realise that many people today hold the belief that men are more work prone than women, and that women are more family prone than men, and that therefore we don’t need to impose regulations that destabilise the framework that supports the gender gap. A law that encourages shared responsibility of early child care may just work to show why those people are wrong. As an article published in The Economist in 2015 argued:
“when childcare responsibilities fall exclusively on the mother, the effect is to depress women’s wages. Time out of the labour force deprives them of experience and promotions. When men shoulder more of the childcare burden, the effect is lessened.”
Paternal leave enables women to make greater career progress and to ultimately make more money. It effectively creates greater equality on the labour market and greater social equality, as both women’s influence on the work place and their purchase power increases. Measures such as these seem increasingly relevant and necessary when research shows that in three years from now, women will have lost “twice as much income as men due to the Conservative changes to our tax and benefits system”.
- 3. To increase diversity with a “50/50 Parliament” through measures such as enabling MPs as well as other “full-time” politicians to job-share – a practice which has been shown to increase representation of women, disabled people and those from ethnic minorities.
Predominantly Conservatives and those on the right wing of the political spectrum will argue that laws that promote gender equality by means of quotas or affirmative action are insulting or demeaning. They will say that they support whoever is best suited for the job, regardless of gender or ethnicity. As much as that sounds perfectly fine in theory, one would have to say that most works places and public institutions today are not equally represented, either in terms of gender or ethnicity. Therefore, if one follows the logic of aforementioned right-wing thinkers, one would have to assume that it is mainly white men who fall within the category of best suited. Although I agree in principle with the idea that the best candidate should win, I do not believe that there generally is only one candidate that is suited for a particular position, and I do not believe that board rooms and work places are unequally represented simply because the best candidate always won. A 50/50 rule is an important measure directed as instigating much needed cultural change in public institutions. What better place to start than the House of Commons?
The Green Party’s manifesto for gender equality is an important document, full of innovative as well as morally instructive policies. Many of these ideas are not politics as usual, and they deserve representation in the governing bodies of the UK. To #VoteGreen2017 is signal your support of these ideas, and to make sure that you’re represented in the House of Commons.
N.B. In this blog post I have but scratched at the surface of what’s in the Green Party’s manifesto for gender equality. For further reading, click on the link below: