A bad week for equality

The Church of England’s complex voting system has led to a decision that women can’t become bishops. This is perplexing to an outsider. If a woman can be a priest, why can’t she make other people priests? A bigger issue for democracy is the political impact of this decision at the heart of the UK Government. Today’s vote affects policy-making way beyond the Church.

26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved for Church of England Bishops. They will now continue to be men-only roles for the foreseeable future. Figures from January 2011 show that 181 (21.7%) out of 833 members of the House of Lords are women, so this reinforcement of gender imbalance is very significant.

Information provided by ‘Counting Women In’ shows the scale of gender inequality in government. Their statistics show that women hold 22 out of 122 of ministerial roles in the House of Commons. Nine Government departments are male only decision-making domains.

During the same week that the Church of England made its decision about Bishops, the Prime Minister announced the axing of equality impact assessments that the previous government had introduced to make sure that officials took account of disability, gender and race in their decision-making.

David Cameron said, “We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff.” How representative are these ‘smart people’? The all-white cabinet is made up of 19 men and 4 women, with 18 millionaires. 60% of the women in cabinet were sacked during the last reshuffle.

The WEA is non-party political but equality and democracy are central to our recently refreshed vision: “A better world – equal, democratic and just; through adult education the WEA challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society.”

Whatever your views on politics or religion, thoughtful consideration of these issues and their impact on society has a place in community-based adult education.

Sources of information:



About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

7 Responses to A bad week for equality

  1. Sounds like an e-petition is required to voice our opinions against this and have the government table it in the house !

  2. Andria Birch says:

    Hear hear – and some direct action too! The recent e-petition to campaign to allow job share for mps to make the role more accessible for under represented groups closed with only 500 ish signatures. It would be good for the WEA to start a new one, more diverse and responsive decision makers (we hope) would lead to more responsive decisions. The undemocratic nature of the final decision re women Bishops is something the church needs to put in order. But no surprise again that those with power don’t want to share it. It seems that the very limited positive action measures in place across the board are not working, or not working fast enough, and it will take several hundred years to get representative decision makers at this rate. Time for something more radical – and we can learn much from other nation states with better records on this.

    • Andria Birch says:

      Although, I should add that I am aware that unusually perhaps the majority of Bishops were in favour of this demonstrating strong leadership that was undermined by the voting system.

  3. Andria Birch says:

    Some really inspiring words from Ruth Spellman, WEA Chief Executive, on the issue of Women into Politics, recorded at the first WEA Women into Politics event held in Nottingham on 2nd November: http://vimeo.com/53858177

    Camera is a little shaky for first minute or two but it settles down so please stick with it. It has taken a while to upload all videos from the day to the WEA EM vimeo site due to upload restrictions, but they are now all up and will be added to the womenintopolitics.wordpress.com site very shortly. It was a very successful event with great feedback from all involved, and we are working hard on fundraising to enable widespread roll out of such learning events in 2013.

  4. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks for all comments here as well as emails and tweets.

    A petition has been started at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/42117

  5. Andria Birch says:

    Many thanks – just signed

  6. Rosemary Mayes says:

    I have just signed too. On the Synod vote re women bishops it is notable the laity vote was anti unlike the clergy which prompts some interesting reflections on ‘active’ members of the C of E.

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