Sometimes items that are deemed newsworthy by the media raise questions in my mind. This week the UK government underwent a cabinet reshuffle, through which the Prime Minister, David Cameron, appointed a number of new ministers whilst releasing others from their duties. This is an event which happens during the life of all governments and is inevitably followed by days of speculation about why some politicians have been raised in status, whilst others have been demoted. We are also subjected to debates around whether movement from one position, such as Secretary of State for Education to Chief Whip, is actually a demotion or simply a new opportunity for the outgoing minister.
This week’s reshuffle was particularly notable for the discussion surrounding the promotion of a number of female politicians to key posts. This we are told, enables the creation of a cabinet that more fairly represents the population of the country. We should, of course, congratulate all of those who have been elevated to positions of responsibility in government, and we certainly hope that they will do a good job in governing the country. However, I do not think that I am alone in being concerned that in the twenty first century it is still considered newsworthy when women are appointed to positions of power and responsibility. There was I feel, a certain irony in the announcement that women are being appointed to government positions on the date that would have been the 156th birthday of Emmeline Pankhurst, that most doughty fighter for the right of women to vote for their elected representatives. Is it not remarkable that so long after the sacrifices made by Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes the appointment of women to the cabinet is still seen as newsworthy? What does this tell us about the state of equality issues in today’s society.
On the same day as this parliamentary shuffling of the pack took place my attention was drawn to another news item commending the leadership of a fashion and design company called Nordstrom who since 1991 have been employing disabled models to sell their various items of clothing and accessories. Those of you who know me will not be surprised to know that the world of fashion and designer clothes has not featured highly in my purview of the world. Indeed one of my colleagues once described my general appearance as “comfortably dishevelled” (I’m not entirely convinced that this was intended as a compliment!).
For the first time in my life I went on-line to hunt down a fashion catalogue in order to verify what I had read. There indeed on the pages of a glossy publication, were photographs aimed at selling various items of clothing, modelled by women and men with disabilities. (I resisted the temptation to buy – after all I wouldn’t wish to put the economy of local market stall holders at risk!)
Just as with the appointment of women to position of political influence, the newsworthiness of an item about disabled models caused me to reflect on why newspapers are reporting in this way. I certainly applaud any organisation that has a policy of equal opportunities in employment and believe that we should welcome the fact that sectors of our society, who have previously been excluded and marginalised, are now achieving positions of influence. However, I am sure I cannot be alone in thinking that it is sad that we still feel the need to draw attention to what is obviously seen by the media as remarkable progress, even today.
I suspect that what these news items tell us is that we still have some distance to travel, until it ceases to be remarkable that women, people with disabilities or those from ethnic minority groups achieve positions of prominence in our communities. It is certainly good that children in schools have role models in positions to which they may aspire. However, it is only when this situation ceases to attract the attention of the media, that we will recognise that genuine progress has been made in ensuring that individuals from all sections of society have been included as full citizens in our countries.