The county council’s constitutional working party met last week to decide how the councillors who chair our meetings should be addressed – chairman/woman or the gender neutral chair.
The discussion had been triggered by a request from the local branch of the Fawcett Society which campaigns for equality. The argument is that male-derived language and terminology deters women from entering public life and taking a greater role in the political sphere.
Although the campaign for equality has come a long way, I believe there are issues of much greater concern than language – the 19% gender pay gap for starters. The whole debate was put into stark contrast for me when I attended the first session of a scrutiny task and finish group to which I have been co-opted at Ipswich Borough Council on all aspects of child safeguarding.
I drove home from that reflecting that if we truly want to see equality for women rather than argue about bureaucratic semantics we should be tackling the terrible violence, fear and discrimination that is the day to day reality for some women: domestic abuse, honour crime (and what a ghastly euphemism that is), forced marriage, human trafficking, female genital mutilation etc
What did my colleagues decide? That it should be up to the person chairing the meeting to decide how they would like to be addressed.