Why write a book on equality?
Because you don’t have to look far to see that men and women still experience significant inequalities in different areas of life. Just one- fifth of our MPs are women. Women are in the minority in business leadership as well, and the recession has hit women the hardest. Women still earn less than men, over 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, and women are far more likely to experience violence from their partner.
And it’s not just women who suffer through inequality. Men are significantly more likely to die from cancer than women, and three-quarters of those who commit suicide are male. Men make up 95 per cent of the prison population. Girls are out-performing boys at every level of the education system, and more of them go on to higher education.
These inequalities are damaging the quality of people’s lives, harming relationships between men and women, limiting the effectiveness of businesses and institutions, and restricting the freedom our children have to reach their full potential.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you’ve seen the liberating impact of women and men who value equality and are proactive about dismantling the barriers that stand in its way, you know that society could be so different. I’m inspired by the parents who make it a priority to share work and the care of children so that both can pursue their calling; the households where everyone does their fair share of the domestic work; the workplaces that root out sexism and aim to open up opportunities to everyone; the churches that take time to nurture all the gifts that both men and women have to offer.
It seems to me that equality is easily misunderstood and can be a slippery concept to grasp, which is why I felt there was a need for a book to delve into it.
Equality is the belief that all people have the same value, regardless of any other defining characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and age. A society or community that values equality will work to eliminate discrimination, disadvantage and barriers to opportunities so that everyone can reach their full potential.
Equality is about treating people fairly without prejudice or assumptions and it’s the essential foundation on which all fruitful relationships are built. Equality, particularly when we’re talking about women and men, is about being free to choose the direction your life takes and having the encouragement and opportunities to enact that choice, rather than being constrained by stereotypes or cultural convention. It’s about everyone being able to flourish.
In Equals, I argue that men and women are equally human, are equal in value, have equal rights, are equally intelligent and are equal in potential. But I also spell out what equality is not. It’s not about uniformity, expecting everyone to be identical. It’s not about treating everyone the same, because we don’t all start on a level playing field. And it won’t always result in indistinguishable outcomes, with men and women achieving exactly the same because actually we’re incredibly diverse which is something to celebrate.
Equality is not just a nice concept or an interesting idea; it’s foundational to women and men doing life together well. It’s the environment that enables true human flourishing, where people experience life in all its fullness and pass that on to others. I hope that Equals will spark conversations about the way we organise life and how we could do that more equitably. I hope it will challenge the stereotypes that limit and damage us and will help us to be honest about the diversity among men and among women. And above all, I hope it will get people doing things differently.
Equals is published by SPCK and is out on 20 March 2014.