Growing up in Nigeria, I didn’t always feel equal. As a matter of fact I learnt early enough that, in the words of the British writer – George Orwell, “some fingers are more equal than others”.
For instance, my elders had first sampling rights to the tastiest food at meal times. They could stay up watching television way longer than I could. They also tended to have the last word in arguments.
As I grew older, I noticed that the stakes were a lot higher though. People from certain ethnic groups were more likely to attain political leadership than others. Women didn’t climb as high as men did on the career ladder. Many girls are even deprived of basic education on account of gender.
When I came to live in the UK, I assumed that fingers would be far more equal here. In some ways, giant strides have been made towards establishing gender harmony and dignity. In other ways, not so much. From a global perspective, trade laws seemed skewed in favour of certain countries. Realistically speaking, power is not balanced fairly in the world and may probably never be. However, I am encouraged by a few of the efforts being made in the UK to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor as well as give the less privileged a fair chance.
It is ironic that the new Equality Act came into force on the 1st of October 2010 – the same day Nigeria marked 50 years of independence from British rule. This has inspired me to reflect on the significance of this new act to the African-Caribbean community.
Will it allow more African-Caribbean people to achieve and rise to the top of their field, for instance? Will it make it easier for professionals like myself who left promising careers behind when they relocated to the UK to pick up where they left off rather than make do with whatever work they can find? Will it make life fairer and better for more people?
The Equality Act draws nine separate pieces of legislation together. Equalities Minister, Theresa May, says that it will now be easier for firms to comply with anti-discrimination rules. In a nutshell, this new act will make life a lot easier for most lawyers (who previously had a hard time navigating the many complex clauses and ramifications of the separate acts).
This simplicity is likely to filter down, making it easier for employers to recruit, train, manage, promote and dismiss staff in a transparent and lawful way, making it easier (I dare say) for those who suffer an infringement of protected characteristics (e.g. race, gender or belief system) to ‘access’ the law and seek redress. However, the taste of this pudding will be in the eating. Only time will tell ‘for sure’ if this change will actually simplify life for all of us or if it will become another ideal people pay lip service to.
Whilst the Equality Act is a step in the right direction, I don’t currently see how it will single-handedly change the dynamics of society. Most African-Caribbean people say that they find it hard to progress in the UK – more-so than their Caucasian counterparts do. I know of people who after having job applications repeatedly rejected have been promptly invited for interviews after replacing the traditional names emblazoned across their CV with western pseudonyms.
Institutionalised racism is still alive and well.
When discriminated against in this manner, it is very difficult for victims to make a case as most employers would simply claim that more suitable candidates were selected on some practical basis or the other.
I am of the view that education is the real key to creating a fairer world for all. People have to be made to understand the need for fairness and how discrimination rends the fabric of society as a whole. This problem has got to be tackled from the taproots upward not merely window dressed.
Having said that, the African-Caribbean community is also in dire need of re-orientation. We have got to collaborate more as well as show confidence and tenacity in the face of work-place discrimination. An enhanced visibility of our role models will also go a long way towards inspiring excellence and creating the new crop of leaders we desire and deserve.
Ogo Ogbata is a writer, public speaker and consultant living in Northamptonshire. She is the author of two books: the training title Creativity and Sense and the historical fiction debut Egg-Larva-Pupa-Woman. Inspired by her novel, she is also creating platforms for the people of her homeland, Nigeria, to reflect and regroup after 50 years of independence. This article was originally written for and published by the Training Journal.