It’s so joyful seeing my three year old granddaughter, Lyra, develop her language.
However, her newly learned phrase of “It’s not fair!”, delivered with an impressive dollop of pouting, whining and sulking is funny but thought provoking.
Lyra, of course, uses it when I won’t let her have ice-cream before her tea or stay playing outside when it’s pouring with rain. But it’s interesting that even at the age of three we start to have a sense of what’s fair and what’s not; and there has certainly been a lot over the last few weeks that has made me think about fairness in life.
Like many women I have been shocked by the death of Sarah Everard. Her murder has appalled people and ignited a passionate debate around the issue of male violence. While there is widespread horror and sadness, I think many responding might be grieving something else we, as women, feel we don’t have – the sense of justice and equality.
The vast majority of us didn’t know Sarah Everard, but this case has chimed with so many. It’s led women across the land to speak out about their experiences of harassment, abuse and violence against women. Some have chosen to share their own experiences to highlight how frequently it occurs and how rarely they are taken seriously.
Of course, it’s rare to be abducted, which is partly why this one case - in a year when 117 women were murdered - has shaken us all so much. But it is clearly not rare for women to be harmed by strangers.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the majority of young woman in the UK have experienced sexual harassment of some form; and one in forty young women have experienced rape. I’ve been so struck by the stories of how sexism and a spectrum of behaviour, ranging from dismissive to predatory, has tried to diminish or harm women.
I’ve been lucky not to have had the same dreadful experiences that so many young women have had, but like most women I still feel anxious about being harassed or attacked when I’m out on my own. I carry a rape alarm and also hold my keys tight between my fingers when I’m walking anywhere in the dark.
Of course, many men experience the same fear late at night and have awful experiences of assault, but there are almost four times as many female victims of sexual assault as men, with more than 4 in 10 being victims of their own partner. It’s also disturbing to hear about the dramatically falling rate of rape prosecutions, down by a third over the last two years. More than 55,000 rapes were recorded in 2019/20, but only 1.4% resulted in a charge or summons. Whatever the reasons, surely this is a betrayal to victims of violence.
The killing of Sarah Everard has reignited a long standing discussion about women’s safety. Whilst, getting women to modify our behaviour might seem a quicker option than trying to get men to stop being violent towards us, this argument’s been made for too long. Women are attacked regardless of the effort they’ve made to avoid harm.
So, it is not surprising that there was a strength of feeling that led many people to feel the need to demonstrate through a vigil on Clapham Common last Saturday. It’s not for me to comment on the rights and wrongs of this during a pandemic, but I was shocked by the way the Met police officers handled this event.
Just a few weeks before I had watched the news and seen the police apply a hands-off approach to thousands of Rangers fans who came out onto the streets. They had gathered together in Glasgow to celebrate their club’s Scottish Premiership win, and were escorted through the city by the police rather than wrestled to the ground. And there have been other football club celebrations during lockdown where the police have taken the same ‘hands off’ approach.
I appreciate these are never easy judgments and few would envy the delicate line that police have had to tread during lockdown. But I simply don’t understand why it is fair for thousands of mostly male football fans to be left alone on the streets, to sing and hug each other in celebration of a game, when far less women were stopped from a peaceful vigil. There does need to be more of a consistent and proportionate response for us to believe fairness is in play.
Still on the subject of fairness, I wanted to talk about the NHS staff survey results, which have just been published. Nationally, there has been a significant increase in the number of BAME staff experiencing discrimination and feeling unfairly treated with regards to career progression, which is massively disappointing and unacceptable. Far more BAME staff also worked on covid wards, 47% BAME compared to 31% white staff. This is absolutely disgraceful. We all need to shout that this is completely unfair and has to change.
It was really good to see that our results for our BAME staff are bucking this national trend, with a reduction in colleagues feeling discriminated against as well as bullied and harassed. It shows that our commitment and the hard work of our race equality staff network is beginning to work.
You’ve hopefully seen that we’ve just launched our anti-racist statement, just before International Day for the Elimination of Race this Sunday. This is about being unapologetically loud and proud in our stance as an anti-racist organisation. We know that we still have a long way to go, but it is reassuring to see some positive improvements towards fairness.
In terms of our disabled staff, the survey showed an increase in us making adequate adjustments for work, but more felt discriminated against because of their disability. Again, we obviously have more work to do as this isn’t fair. We must do better and having just achieved ‘level 2 disability confident employer’ status, I know our staff network will help us work towards achieving level 3 which is much more ambitious.
Fairness is one of our values. But it needs to be more than lip service and we have to take every opportunity to address the causes of inequality and remove the barriers that stop us all being treated fairly.
Life isn’t fair sometimes, but we absolutely must try to be.