Tanita Maxwell is currently working as a Development Worker at Grampian Regional Equality Council (GREC) on the Advancing Equality In the North-East of Scotland Project which she talks about in the article.
Sexism can take many forms; from interpersonal interactions to institutional and systemic discrimination. Policies and practices which may at first sight appear as neutral, i.e. treating everyone the same, can in some cases constitute indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, and some practices can adversely affect women. For example, by not providing flexible working hours for all staff this can indirectly discriminate against women because they may require flexible working for childcare commitments.
Sexism lowers women’s self-esteem, feelings of safety and general sense of well-being. As the Everyday Sexism campaign on Twitter has successfully illustrated, cat-calling, sexist comments and behaviour are unfortunately common place on the streets, in the media and in the workplace. How can we challenge sexism and discrimination against women in our everyday lives?
I work as a part time development worker on The Advancing Equality in the East of Scotland Project North which is based at Grampian Regional Equality Council (GREC) and funded by the Scottish Government for three years. This project aims to challenge sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination by supporting individuals, groups and organisations to work with public bodies such as the NHS, police, universities and colleges to create a fairer and more equal society.
In a recent community engagement event I helped to organise, alongside Aberdeen City Council, at the Town and County House called ‘What’s age got to do with it?’ older, predominately female members of the public gave their feedback on the equality outcomes that Aberdeen City Council had produced. Issues such as access to services, safety and participation were discussed.
Events such as these give women a chance to have their voice heard and pass on their views to decision makers. A few female participants spoke about how they feel fearful at night-time and how groups of young men and women hanging about on the streets intimidate them. Views such as these were passed on to the Aberdeen City Council Equality Team who will then look over their Equality Outcomes and see if any changes need to be made.
Working with public bodies to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity can be challenging. Although public bodies have to publish equality outcomes, the aim of the Advancing Equality Project is to try and bridge the gap between communities and public bodies.
I also raise awareness of the equality legislation and the responsibilities of public bodies under the public sector equality duty through presentations. The Equality Act 2010 simplifies, streamlines and strengthens forty years of equality legislation and protects people on the basis of nine protected characteristics: disability, religion and belief, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, gender, age, race and pregnancy and maternity.
The project aims to work on all these intersecting equality strands on the basis that equality is an issue for everyone. Recent groups I have presented to include the Humanist Society in Aberdeen, the Foyer and at a Speak UP event in Aberdeenshire for people with learning disabilities.
The Advancing Equality Project also has volunteers from diverse communities who help to prepare presentations and organise events. Two female volunteers recently accompanied me to do a presentation at Banff and Buchan College in Fraserburgh and were very obliging in assisting me to prepare for this. One of the volunteers aims to translate the presentation into Polish so that she can also do presentations to members of the Polish community about their rights under the Equality Act 2010. Informing members of the public about the Equality Act 2010 and the different kinds of discrimination aims, to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about particular groups, encourage dialogue and foster good relations in the community.
In my role as a development worker on this project I recently facilitated a Skills Audit with Aberdeen Women’s Alliance. I saw at first hand the wide range of skills the members of the group have but also the difficulties the women face in utilising these. Time constraints, family and work commitments were all issues that arose and the members spoke about how they could best work together to address these issues. As women, we often have to juggle work, child and family commitments simultaneously and many women still try to find time to campaign for fairer treatment for women.
By being active and vocal citizens in our communities women can challenge discrimination and sexism. Through the Advancing Equality Project I have been fortunate enough to see at first hand the great work groups such as Aberdeen Women’s Alliance do and the impressive skill set of women in our local communities. Speaking to women about the Equality Act 2010 and encouraging them to speak up and express their views to the public bodies that have a duty to advance equality of opportunity under the public sector equality act, is an important way in which the Advancing Equality project aims to challenge everyday sexism.