Much to be done yet in fight for equality
An effective and independent monitoring body working alongside NGOs, together with strong laws to protect people against discrimination, can greatly advance the cause of gender and other equalities, says a visiting British expert.Jonathan Rees is a former director-general of the UK Government's Equalities Office which promotes the implementation of non-discrimination and equality legislature.
Rees, who spoke in Bangkok yesterday, said Britain still has a lot of challenges to overcome. Rees cited the fact that no gay Premier League footballer has ever come out publicly to acknowledge his gayness is seen as one indicator of challenges that lie ahead.
This example, said Rees, reflects a homophobic fear that constitutes a cultural barrier that goes beyond what the law can assist. "It's really important to have top level leadership. You have a woman prime minister for the first time - but it's important to have someone at ministerial level [to push the agenda]," said Rees, referring to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
There are seven types of equality being advanced in the UK, said Rees. These are: race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religious belief, non belief and transgender status.
Same-sex marriage is recognised in the UK, as couples have a choice of a civil partnership or marriage. With most direct discrimination banned by law, the challenge in the UK is to tackle forms of indirect discrimination.
In Britain, religious belief cannot be used as a reason to discriminate against people of different sexual orientation. Positive action is also taken to support underrepresented groups in society. A national help line exists for people to ring for assistance and to learn about their rights, as well as a related website.
Rees was speaking to an audience of mostly Thai activists in a talk organised by the British Council, together with the House of Representatives' Committee on Children, Women, Elderly People, Disabled People and the Women's Network, an NGO.
He said voluntary groups in Britain were active and reached out to millions of women and tackle the issues of violence against women and human trafficking. These voluntary groups also have access to related ministers, Rees added.
Today, 36 per cent of senior civil servants in the UK are women, but there's still room for more women to become MPs, said Rees. Other challenges include the high cost of child care and premature sexualisation of girls. Some girls, aged only 5 or 6, are donning make-up while many women are fixated about ideal weight and figures. Forced marriage and the mutilation of genitalia also persists in some parts of the UK, Rees told the seminar.