Social Challenges: Easy Equality Issues

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Of course, these are only easy from a certain perspective.  (Is there a better title for this article?)  They are easy because everybody (more or less) recognizes them and agrees they are issues which need to be tackled if we are to build a more just society.  Our aim here is to say something helpful about the mainstream equalities issues: the ones covered in UK legislation and general liberal sensitivity training courses.

According to the UK Equality Act 2010 it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of (in alphabetic order, to avoid the appearance of any prioritization):

  • age,
  • disability,
  • gender reassignment,
  • marriage and civil partnership,
  • pregnancy and maternity,
  • race,
  • religion or belief,
  • sex, or
  • sexual orientation.

The boundaries of several of these issues often get blurred, but it is probably helpful to distinguish between the gender equality issues addressed by traditional feminists and the other issues around sex & sexuality.

While all these equality groups are equal, in the eyes of the Equality Act, at least, there are significant differences in the scope of their activity and the nature of their concerns.

  • Age touches us all personally: we were all young once, and we all hope to be old one day - if we are not there already.  While there is much room for improvement, significant effort is already put into caring for the young and the old.
  • Disability on the other hand, as a serious concern (as opposed to, say, wearing glasses because you are short-sighted), affects comparatively few of us.  Adjustments to enable disabled people to participate on something like a level playing field are frequently costly, but few people deny that it would be good to make those adjustments if they can be afforded.
  • Gender reassignment is very much a minority activity.  Many people do not understand it, and some question whether it is needed.  Adjustments are often not costly, but can be contentious and opposed.
  • Marriage and civil partnership affects the majority of the adult population, but there are few related issues, and few groups campaigning for the rights of married (or single) people.
  • Pregnancy and maternity affects just under half the adult population - directly, at least - and the practical impact is massive.  There is considerable support already in place, but there are many complex issues related to support and justice in this area.
  • Race is incredibly complicated: we all belong to some race (or some mixture of races), and race is deeply connected with class, culture and religion, so teasing out the racial component of any situation in the real world is rarely going to be straightforward.  In this context, 'race' effectively means 'minority race', and there are significant differences in the practical issues faced by non-British white, and by the various non-white groups.  In recent years, to complicate matters still further, there has also been increasing recognition of the disadvantages sufered by sections of the white working class.  Racial discrimination has effectively been outlawed for many years, but it is still alive and well: we can measure it statistically, but it is generally very hard to prove in specific cases.  And it's not just people: technology can also be racist.
  • Religion or belief is another deeply complicated area, partly because of the connection with culture and race.
  • Sex is another area where everybody is involved one way or another, whether we believe it to be simple and take it for granted, or we find it complicated and struggle with society's expectations.  In the past, this has mostly been about liberating women from the constraints placed upon them through social expectations and structural requirements, but more recently it has broadened to include the struggles of transgender people, and those who do not want to identify as belonging to either sex.
  • Sexual orientation is an area where people frequently experience a deep emotional reaction, both in their own sexual response to other people, and in their reactions to other people's sexual responses.  These emotions, coupled with strong cultural expectations around sex and sexuality, make it very hard for people to engage at a rational level in this area.  Again, it is very hard to distinguish between religious issues and cultural ones but, while in most Western countries the actual religious issues are relatively unimportant these days, the religious difficulties can be used as a battle ground when it is too difficult to address the underlying cultural difficulties.


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