• Dr Suriyah Bi

On the importance of representation on the Government's Women and Equalities Committee

An open letter to the Parliamentary Liaison Committee


The Government's Women's and Equalities Committee composition as of March 2020.


Dear Members of the Liaison Committee,

We are writing in regard to the composition of the Women and Equalities Committee, which disappointingly does not appear to be representative of BAME and/or ethnic or religious minorities. Given that the last decade has brought to surface an array of intersectional inequalities and discrimination for a number of communities across the country, the importance of representation on this committee is crucial. The Grenfell Tower tragedy, Windrush scandal, rising rates of Islamophobia and hate crimes, and the current Coronavirus pandemic—to which BAME communities are more at risk—are only a few examples we can name that demonstrate the need for representation at government level, in order to deliver justice and provide adequate responses for the communities impacted. This can only occur if government committees such as Women and Equalities, adopt an intersectional feminist approach, which allows for representation and voices from those directly impacted, to be heard in Parliament. A wealth of studies show that a lack of representation is positively correlated with higher rates of conscious and unconscious biases, and by extension poorer responses to matters concerning women, BAME and minority communities (see Entman: 1994, Fan et.al: 2019, Curini and Memoli: 2015).

Currently, work has been conducted by the Equality Act Review to better understand inequalities and how to best address them. This includes conducting a public consultation to understand how to strengthen the Equality Act, which has been endorsed by a number of MPs and academics. We are also conducting research as to concerns about government policy on grade predictions, and why BAME communities are at greater risk of coronavirus compared to other demographics. Our work speaks to the heart of equality through listening to voices and experiences at the grassroots levels, and in doing so, we adopt an intersectional feminist approach to allow for the breadth and depth of experiences to be represented.

We would like to bring to your attention a number of studies on the need for, and significance of intersectional feminism. These include but are not limited to:

1. Crenshaw, K. 1989. Demarganisling the intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum. Vol: 8:1, pp. 139-167.

2. Atrey, S. 2019. Intersectional discrimination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

3. Bi, S. More than Multiple Jeopardy: Navigating the Legal System as a Muslim-Woman-Litigant-in-Person.Journal of Muslims in Europe, Vol. 8: 3, pp. 247-264.

The above theorists’ works speak to the irreversible damage that is inflicted due to the lack of diversity and representation on significant committees and boards. As intersectional feminism was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 and the importance of such a praxis has been highlighted consistently for over three decades, our disappointment is all the more severe that, in 2020, a government committee on “Women and Equalities” has failed to be inclusive of a diverse demographic that constitutes the social fabric of our country. Certainly, there are now more than ever before more MPs who are women of colour, and of a variety of racial, ethnic and religious affiliations who could and should have been selected.

We would therefore like to request the committee to make available details as to how it went about making appointments. This includes but is not limited to the following questions:

1. How many men and women applied to the committee?

2. What were the ethnic/racial/religious backgrounds of the candidates who applied?

3. What steps did the committee take, if any, to adopt an intersectional feminist approach to appealing to and/or inviting applications from ethnic/racial/religious minority MPs?

Given the advancements made in intersectional feminism elsewhere, the future work of the committee is at risk of being compromised due to the lack of diversity. We would urge you therefore, to reconsider the choice of appointments to be reflective of the diverse demographic on which Britain prides itself, and which is currently our upper hand on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Suriyah Bi

Chief Executive, Equality Act Review Campaign

References

Curini, L, Jou, W, and Memoli, V. 2017. Why Policy Representation Matters: The consequences of ideological proximity between citizens and their governments. Routledge.

Fan, Y. Slavich, E. 2019. Gender and cultural bias in student evaluations: Why representation matters. PLOS One, 14: 2, e0209749.

Entman, R. 1994. Representation and Reality in the Portrayal of Blacks on Network Television News. Journalism Quarterly, Volume: 71 issue: 3, page(s): 509-520.

© 2020 THE EQUALITY ACT REVIEW