By Amanda Hamilton, Patron. National Association of Licensed Paralegals
Football fans were recently treated to an exciting Women’s World Cup tournament, with excellent play and massive TV audiences. In the UK, more than 12 million viewers watched the final between England and Spain. As the final whistle blew and Spain celebrated victory, it was undeniable that women’s football has come a long way, particularly in the last ten years.
And then the (now former) Spanish football federation president held the head of one of the Spanish players (Jenni Hermoso) with both hands and kissed her on the lips. Something few people would bet on happening with a male footballer. Reactions around the world ranged from raised eyebrows to outrage. Instead of talking about advances in a women’s sport, misogyny, sexism, entitlement and abuse of power dominated television, radio, newspaper and social media discussions.
Still a long way to go
It is clear that while there appears to be a willingness to have equity between the sexes, less discrimination and a more tolerant society, there is evidently no such thing in practice. Misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, prejudice and sexism continue to exist despite the laws that are there to discourage them. It has just gone underground and is less spoken about. This is not just in relation to women’s football but to the whole of society.
In the UK, since 2004 we have had Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples and in 2014, the same-sex marriage Act became law. On the face of it, there should be parity between heterosexual and homosexual partners and legally there is. However, in reality, there remains an underlying streak of prejudice relating to homophobia. Indeed, prejudice of all kinds remains. It’s just more difficult to prove.
Eye of the beholder
The difficulty becomes apparent when you, as an individual, believe you have been subject to any kind of prejudice or discrimination because there is no way to prove it unless there happens to be concrete evidence, such as something in writing, a voice or video recording. Evidence is something that is easy to avoid if you are a perpetrator. All you have to do is to avoid saying or writing anything specifically derogatory.
Discrimination, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. As a reasonable person, one knows whether a raised voice and/or aggressive action is aimed at you because you are gay, a woman or of ethnic origins.
I have a female gay friend who heard raised voices outside her home and went out to investigate as she recognised the female voice of her immediate neighbour. The neighbour was engaging with a man standing in his garden opposite her neighbour. My friend had never previously spoken with the man. When she asked whether everything was alright, the man aggressively turned to her, told her to mind her own business and added that her boundary wall between her property and that of her opposite neighbour was coming down. The friend, who is a very strong independent woman, and well-integrated socially was unusually upset by this unprovoked aggressive treatment and was convinced it was fuelled by homophobia. There was nothing explicit in the words used to indicate this, but she just instinctively knew. She called the police and explained the incident to the two officers who arrived and they offered to visit the diagonally opposite neighbour.
Some months later, my friend requested the police report and was shocked to find that the police officers completely rejected her allegation and believed the neighbour when he said that it was just a spat and there was nothing in it. The police even stated in the report that there was definitely no ‘homophobia’ involved as the neighbour had denied it.
Nature of the beast
Unfortunately, this is not a unique occurrence. If a female worker complains about sexual harassment at work, it becomes the word of the victim against the perpetrator. Many years ago, when I worked in the property business, my boss was in the habit of commenting on women’s attributes as they walked past the shopfront. Having informed him that I found it insulting and inappropriate, he just told me to lighten up and that if I wanted to ‘move up’ the ladder, I would have to change my attitude. It was just a bit of ‘fun’.
I have had similar stories told to me in respect of discrimination due to ethnic origin. Being well educated, well qualified, with massive experience in the relevant field and having excellent references can sometimes not be enough to secure a job. Nothing will be said, but there will be a feeling. And that is not much to back a complaint.
In conclusion, laws may be there to protect individuals legally in theory, but in practice, they don’t prevent inequality injustices or discrimination from actually happening in society. It’s just far more difficult to prove.
About the author
Amanda Hamilton is the Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.