AEA, a Community Interest Company Limited by Guarantee, was established in Sept 2018 to promote the personal and professional development of women and girls.
Our plan for an annual conference was sadly stymied by Covid and remains in cold-storage for the time being.
In 2019, we discovered that guidance from the Equality & Human Rights Commission on the 2010 Equality Act – specifically on the protected characteristics and the single-sex exception – was incorrect.
Recognising this as a serious threat to the rights of women and children, AEA Director Ann Sinnott wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. After many persistent months, the guidance was eventually amended – see our booklet Equality Matters for more detail.
Though the guidance had been widely disseminated, instead of making a public announcement the EHRC privately notified only a handful of key organisations. We regarded that as remiss. We also wanted changes to be made to the Services Code of Practice. We therefore sought a Judicial Review. Though a JR wasn’t granted, EHRC was forced into effective public confirmation of its changed guidance. See AEA’s May 2021 Newsflash for further detail.
During the 10yrs in which incorrect guidance was available on EHRC’s website, there can be little doubt that it was disseminated to, and by, thousands of organisations in all sectors. As a consequence, the policies and practices of countless organisations reflect the misguidance and are ultra vires, ie outside the law.
Why is an organisation like AEA necessary?
Women are everywhere: in public spaces, in all institutions and in most organisations. Unlike a few short decades ago, the presence of women is now so commonplace and unquestioned, that many believe women have achieved parity. Is this really so?
Undeniable gains for women and girls have been made but, in many instances, aspirations are truncated and ambitions stunted. Unfairness threads throughout the fabric of female lives.
Sources for the following statistics are in Resources.
There’s the inherent career-limiting bias of the ‘glass-ceiling’ and the ‘maternity career-penalty’, plus the fact that women working full-time are paid, on average, 14.1% less than men. There’s unfairness in the home: even when working full-time, even when earning more than their male partners, women still undertake the majority of housework and caring for dependents.
And it starts early.That 71.3% of girls successfully study STEM at GCSE level yet only 33% continue onwards to a STEM qualification, suggests that something is awry. Cultural expectations and standards, about female abilities and how females should look and behave, influence girls and young women and negatively impact their self-esteem and dampen aspiration. It’s not surprising that the Prince’s Trust’s 2019 ‘Youth Index’ found that young women lack self-confidence and feel they are ‘not good enough in general’. Self-harm among young girls is rising: in the last decade, NHS data shows a 68% rise in hospital admissions of self-harmed girls under 17yrs.
Sexist views and behaviour are rife in schools: 66% of female students have experienced or witnessed the use of sexist language. 37% of female students have experienced sexual harassment. The organisation Everyone’s Invited, which called for personal accounts to be submitted to their website, reveals an even bleaker picture of the harmful and degrading experiences of young women and girls in schools.
Despite repeated government announcements about tackling the issue, women subjected to domestic violence/abuse and sexual assault/rape are now at epidemic proportions. The case of Sarah Everard has brought the murder of women by a current or former partner to vivid public attention. Karen Ingala-Smith maintains a log of the deaths of women at the hands of current or former partners.
And let’s not forget women in low-paid insecure employment, women pensioners living in poverty.
But women walk the ultimate corridors of civic power, so our women MPs lobby for change, don’t they? They do, of course, but their collective strength is limited: though females are almost 52% of the UK population, male MPs outnumber women MPs by 2:1. And unfairness still stalks the House of Commons: although women Ministers were recently granted Maternity Leave, women MPs do not qualify.
Progress has indeed been made but there is without doubt a long way to go before equality between the sexes is achieved.
Furthermore, progress made is not guaranteed. A prime example is the full-frontal attack on women’s reproductive rights in the reversal of Roe v Wade in the US. Worryingly, some UK MPs are similarly-minded.
While inequity for women and girls persists, the need for organisations like AEA remains.