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  The Feminist Principle of Equality and Inclusion

 

 

The Feminist Principle of Equality and Inclusion


The feminist principle of equality and inclusion is at the core of our equalityseeking work. As feminists, we acknowledge exclusion as the mechanism through which inequality is maintained. By applying the feminist principle of equality and inclusion to both the work and practices of our organizations, we reflect and strengthen
our efforts toward women’s social, legal, political, economic and cultural equality.

The feminist principle of equality and inclusion means, as feminist organizations, we apply a feminist analysis to policies, programs, practices, services and legislation to ensure they are inclusive of women and other marginalized groups. We advocate for equity practices to eliminate the barriers to inclusion, recognizing that inclusion leads to equality.


As feminist organizations, we apply the principle of equality and inclusion to every aspect of the work that we do. We see the world through our women’s eyes from our women’s experience, and overlay this vision with a lens of inclusion. We use this feminist analysis in our work with organizations and communities in our efforts toward equality and inclusion. We seek out those places where we can make changes to improve the status of women, whether we advocate for improved policies and legislation, or provide counselling and support services.


“As more and more women – and men too – reject the worldview of patriarchy,
they embrace the worldview that feminism promotes. The basic components for
this worldview are respect for others, equality, mutuality, interdependence and
nurturance. Living these values necessarily changes the configuration of the
human community from a pyramid to a circle.”

~ Marie Ryan


 




As feminists, we know that women are excluded from full participation within traditional structures, and that our contributions are not equally valued by society. Men hold most of the power in governments, families, churches, and other traditional institutions. Within these hierarchies, leaders tend to hire, consult, and validate likeminded people whose appearance, background and abilities reflect traditional values. In this way, patriarchal systems replicate themselves, sustaining the existence of the “old boys club.” As women, we encounter exclusion, discrimination and prejudice in our relationships and communities simply because we are female. We may be further marginalized or encounter discrimination based on class, income, social status, race, ability, sexuality or other differences that separate us from the status quo.

As feminists, we are concerned with exclusion and inequality based on gender, as well as other factors such as class, race, education, or ability that limit women’s full participation in the legal, social, political, economic and cultural benefits of society. Exclusion hurts both women and men, and negatively impacts on society in general.
Exclusion happens when we cannot access the education, health care, social services, employment or housing to live comfortably, participate in society, and feel we are valued and respected members of our communities. Individuals and groups who are often excluded are single mothers and their children, youth, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, people living in rural and remote areas and others who have been marginalized. Exclusion reinforces and further widens existing inequalities; as the number of people who are excluded increases, the well-being of society in general decreases. Poverty, poor health, unemployment and crime are among the costs of inequality, and are linked in a cycle of cause and effect. Poverty leads to exclusion, which then leads to poorer health. This in turn leads to further poverty, unemployment, and so forth. Breaking this cycle requires the development of inclusive public policy as well as democratic processes based on community participation and development.

The feminist principle of equality and inclusion means that women and men should enjoy equal status, benefits, rights, choices and freedoms in society regardless of sex, age, race, ability or other differences. This reflects the need to address discrimination, prejudice and exclusion by including women and other marginalized groups in shaping the policies, programs, practices, services and legislation that affect our lives. Inclusion is a process to bring about equality. It embraces individuals and groups who have been excluded from planning, decision-making and policy development within community. Inclusion empowers those who have been traditionally excluded by providing the opportunities, resources and support needed to participate. Feminist strategies for inclusion call for actions that address our concerns at individual, family, community and societal levels. These actions must come from all sectors of society to address the systemic nature of exclusion.

As feminists, we work for women’s full participation in society by applying a lens of inclusion to our equality-seeking efforts. Although the language and terminology of inclusion and equality has changed with time, and as these ideas are being adapted by governments and institutions, the fundamental ideas and values are in keeping with our long-standing feminist principles, practices and processes. An inclusion lens is, in fact, a feminist lens. We see the world through our women’s eyes from our women’s experience, overlaying this vision with a lens of inclusion. This provides us with a method to analyze the causes of women’s social, legal, political, economic and cultural exclusion, and create strategies and solutions that promote equality. A feminist inclusion lens offers a way in which we can look at the root causes of longstanding problems like sexism and other forms of discrimination, and consider new ways of thinking to solve these problems.


The values that inform the process of inclusion mirror our values as feminists. As advocates of social justice, we work for the fair and equitable distribution of the social, legal, political, economic and cultural resources of society for the benefit of all women and men. We value diversity, and are committed to respecting and embracing the diversity of women’s cultures, races, ages, sexualities, abilities, and other differences. We welcome and validate the contributions of all women and men to society. In our efforts toward equality and inclusion, we respect the rights of individuals to make choices affecting our lives, and work to create opportunities for choice. We
recognize and support the rights and freedoms set out in legislation and guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As feminists, we are committed to working together with women, families, communities, organizations and governments to build common relationships and interests. We must continue to advocate for the development of inclusive public policies, programs, practices, services and legislation that address and eliminate the barriers to inclusion and equality.

The processes governments and institutions undertake to consult with communities or include us in public policy development are often exclusionary in nature. They act as barriers to the full participation of women and other marginalized groups in society, reinforcing existing inequalities. There are financial barriers to women’s participation, such as lack of funding, childcare and transportation. Social barriers, such as poverty, illness, or lack of education, are those which make women and other groups feel as though they have no right or legitimacy to participate. Structural barriers, such as management and decision-making processes, also limit participation. For example, governments and institutions that operate from a traditional hierarchal approach, are likely to try and manage communities and non-governmental organizations in a similar fashion when seeking our input.

As feminists, we must challenge these processes in order to eliminate the barriers to women’s full participation in society. We do this by advocating for inclusive and equitable processes which encourage and validate the full participation and contributions of traditionally excluded individuals and groups. Governments and institutions must be challenged to provide adequate funding and resources while respecting the autonomy of women and equality-seeking organizations to identify issues of concern as well as solutions. As women, organizations and communities working for equality, we must be able to decide on the structure, process and resources for implementing our own solutions in order to effect real change. We must continue to challenge policies, programs, practices, services and legislation to ensure that a diversity of women are included, and the barriers to our participation are addressed.

In the course of our equality-seeking work, we will encounter many terms related to equality and inclusion used by governments and funders. Some of these are consistent with our feminist vision and values, while others ignore, minimize or water down our efforts toward women’s equality and inclusion. For example, gender mainstreaming refers to the reorganization, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes to incorporate a gender equality perspective at all levels and at all stages. By bringing gender equality issues into the mainstream of society, gender is meant to be considered in the widest possible variety of sectors, such as work and immigration. As feminists, we are concerned with this concept of mainstreaming as a potential move toward the complete invisibility of women as a marginalized group in society. This invisibility would mean that women’s concerns are neither acknowledged nor addressed, reinforcing existing inequalities.

Likewise, gender neutral analysis assumes that all people are affected by policies and programs in the same way, or that there is a neutral impact on women and men as a result of a policy or program. As feminists, we recognize that gender neutral analysis does not result in equitable outcomes for women. It is based upon the
assumption that existing structures are inclusive of women and other marginalized groups, and does not take into account the reasons why inequality exists within the status quo. By simply adopting a gender neutral approach to policy and program development, we risk repeating and reinforcing existing inequities in the lives of women
and men.

As feminists, we work toward women’s social, legal, political, economic and cultural equality. Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men. This means recognizing the differences in women’s and men’s lives, including our roles, responsibilities and access to resources. It also means taking measures to address the historical and social disadvantages that have led to these inequities. Gender equality means that women and men enjoy the same status in society. This means having equal conditions to participate and contribute to social, legal, political, economic and cultural development at all levels of society, and to benefit from the results. Gender
equality is achieved through gender equity practices; equity leads to equality.

Equity practices, such as affirmative action and pay equity programs, are a means through which women and other marginalized groups may be included and fully participate in traditional structures. For example, an institution may initiate an affirmative action hiring program in order to increase the number of women employees.
Opponents of affirmative action claim that such programs lead to tokenism, or that under-qualified women will unfairly obtain positions while qualified males will experience discrimination. Given the experience women have gained in the work force, family, community and through education, there are many qualified women who are as skilled and able as their male counterparts in similar capacities. Without affirmative action, it is unlikely that women would be included in traditional structures or hold positions of authority in male-dominated environments. As feminists, we must continue to insist upon opportunities to enable women to fully participate within society.

Gender based analysis, gender equality analysis, and gender inclusive analysis are terms which are sometimes used interchangeably within governments and institutions, but may carry separate and distinct meanings depending on the context in which they are used. Gender based analysis is a tool to help integrate gender considerations into policy, planning and decision-making processes. It relates to a broader goal of gender equality using various competencies and skills to involve both women and men in building society and preparing the future. Gender equality analysis is a process that assesses the impacts on women and men of policies, programs, legislation or legal principles from the beginning stages. This assessment is made through the consideration of gender differences, the relationships between women and men, and our different social and economic circumstances. It also takes into account compounding issues such as race, class, sexuality or ability.

As feminists, we are committed to using a gender inclusive analysis in our efforts toward equality and inclusion. Gender inclusive analysis recognizes that a policy will have different impacts on women and men because we have different roles in society and different life experiences. Gender inclusive analysis identifies differences arising from women’s unequal access to power and resources, and assumes these differences can be changed. As feminists, we work from a gender inclusive analysis in every aspect of the work we do. We constantly examine policies, programs, practices, services and legislation to examine how they currently affect women, as well as how they can be improved to remove barriers to women’s equality and inclusion. We may also apply a gender inclusive analysis to the internal practices and processes of our equality-seeking organizations to become inclusive of the women we work for and with.

As feminist equality-seeking organizations, we are committed to women’s social, legal, political, economic and cultural equality and inclusion. As feminists, we acknowledge exclusion as the mechanism that prevents women’s full participation in society, maintaining existing inequalities. As women, we may be excluded from
participation in traditional structures not only on the basis of gender, but age, race, culture, sexuality, ability, or other factors that distinguish us from the traditional status quo. We must insist on the implementation and use of equity practices within traditional structures to include and validate the participation of women and other marginalized groups within society in general.

Inclusion is the process through which systemic changes may take place to make equality possible. When we are committed to the principle of equality and inclusion within our work and organizational processes, we model the very practices we want to see adopted within our relationships, workplaces and communities. As feminists, we must continue to insist on women’s inclusion in all aspects of policies, programs, practices, services and legislation to advance our agenda for peace, equality and justice.

Scenario

The Feminist Principle of
Equality and Inclusion

The provincial Legal Aid program offers services to individuals unable to pay for legal
representation. The Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission offers services in
criminal matters and civil matters. The bulk of funding is used to deliver criminal legal aid services where serious crimes (e.g., sexual assault, murder) are dealt with. Family law issues such as property settlement, access and custody, are considered civil matters. Government claims that the Legal Aid program is equally accessible to women and men.

  1. Is the Legal Aid program equal? Inclusive? Why or why not?
  2. Is the Legal Aid program gender neutral? Gender inclusive? How?
  3. Do Legal Aid services meet the needs of women? Why or why not?
  4. How could women’s organizations work to make this program equal and inclusive of
    women and women’s legal needs?
  5. Who should be included in the work to make this service inclusive of the legal needs of
    women?

 

Workshop Questions

The Feminist Principle of
Equality and Inclusion

  • Are there times when I have felt excluded because of my gender? My age, ability, or
    other factors?
  • Are there times when I have felt included? What does inclusion feel like?
  • What does equality and inclusion mean to the practices of our organization?
  • How can we practice equality and inclusion within the decision-making practices of our
    organization?

 

source: PACSW pdf document (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)


 


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Page last updated July 20, 2003