In 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced which made it unlawful to discriminate against men or women in the workplace on the grounds of their gender or marital status, and in one of the greatest examples of progressive employment legislation, the Equality Act which incorporated the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 2010.
Impressive strides have been made to ensure the workplace is a fair environment, where employees are protected from discrimination as best as possible. However, it’s also well accepted that the work is far from done. There is a woeful volume of female representation on boards for example, but this has been recognised at least, and bodies such as the CIPD and Women On Boards UK are doing fantastic work to put this right.
And so to my gripe.
Newly appointed UKIP group leader in Wales, Neil Hamilton used, what Presiding Officer Elin Jones has described as, “unacceptable sexist language and innuendo” in an Assembly plenary session which she stated “insulted the integrity” of Assembly Members.
The remarks that Hamilton made that caused him to be reprimanded included him describing Leanne Wood who is the leader of Plaid Cymru and Kirsty Williams who is the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary for Education as “Political Concubines” in the First Ministers ‘Harem’.
Let’s just remind ourselves that its 2016, and that he is an elected representative of the Welsh Government.
It gets worse.
Following what appears to be a puny telling off from the brand new Presiding Officer, Hamilton attempted to play down his actions by claiming that he was attempting to be funny in order to make a significant point.
If it wasn’t bad enough that Hamilton finds misogynistic comments acceptable, or that the Presiding Officer’s reprimand was so disproportionate to what was said that it is almost offensive in its own right, Hamilton now believes it is acceptable to speak in such a way on the basis that it can be justified by covering it up as ‘humour’.
This is my first blog post regarding such a matter, and certainly one that has made any connection with the political arena that Wales operates but as someone who is passionate about equality in the workplace, remembering that the plenary session is an environment in which Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams are ‘at work’, I feel duty bound to remark on how unacceptable I feel Hamilton’s comments are.
Our elected politicians in the Welsh Government are and should be held to a higher standard. The credibility of all politicians has been severely eroded in recent times following the expenses scandal, and the current tactics being used by both ‘in’ and ‘out’ parts of the Brexit referendum debate are doing very little to help matters, and so when a ‘high profile’ politician makes a remark such as this, it sends a dangerous message to others that it’s acceptable. That as long as we use humour when being sexist, then its acceptable and a lesser issue. Well it isn’t acceptable. It is completely unacceptable.
From a HR point of view, Kirsty Williams and Leanne Wood were subjected to this, at their place of work. No excuse. It’s utterly deplorable.