Sheffield City Council has settled an equal pay case shortly before it was due to be heard by the Supreme Court. Around 900 women claimed that they were paid less than men doing comparable work. Last year the Court of Appeal agreed, holding that productivity bonuses granted to male employees resulted in unequal pay of men and women that was discriminatory (Gibson v Sheffield City Council  EWCA Civ 63). Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said: ‘This is great news for thousands of women working at Sheffield council …. This decision also has implications for around 400,000 other women’s cases across the country. We hope these councils now stop wasting money on lawyers’ fees and face up to their responsibilities to pay women fairly’.
Cris McCurley, partner and head of international family law at north-east firm Ben Hoare Bell, said that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill contravenes the UK’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The bill withdraws funding for huge areas of civil law, including private family law cases, leaving legal rights inaccessible to many. McCurley argues that women in particular will be disproportionately affected. While legal aid will supposedly be available in cases where there is domestic violence, McCurley explains that the limitations are so strict that they will exclude the majority of victims. As such, she says, if the bill is enacted as it stands, judicial review of the provisions relating to domestic violence is ‘inevitable’. If this fails, she is prepared to take the issue to the CEDAW committee.
Women in Prison
Echoing recommendations from the Prison Reform Trust in July, the Ministry of Justice has recognised the distress caused to children when mothers are imprisoned and have outlined an intention to increase community sentences over custodial ones.
Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
The US repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ came in at midnight on Tuesday 20th September after President Obama signed legislation last December. The policy, which was introduced in 1993 under Bill Clinton, allowed the removal of any gay or lesbian (and presumably bisexual) personnel should they be open about their sexuality, resulting in more than 14,000 people being discharged. At midnight, some of those serving in the US military ‘came out’ via social networking and even over YouTube.
Following in the footsteps of the UK mainlands, Jersey and Guernsey welcome changes in the blood donation regulations for gay and bisexual men. From November, gay and bisexual men will be allowed to donate blood but only on the condition that they have not engaged in sexual practices with men for the past twelve months. Despite pressure to keep up with the UK, Northern Ireland has no current plans to change the lifetime ban.
Reproduction & Parenthood
British passports, and paperwork used to request them, are to be changed to reflect the possibility of a child having same-sex parents who will be referred to as ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ rather than ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’. The Identity and Passport Service have stressed the importance of collecting the correct information regarding guardians. The changes also mean that trans people can opt out of identifying as one of the two genders available.
Gender & Criminalisation
Despite being sentenced to ten lashes for driving, a Saudi Arabian woman named only as Shema, has had her punishment overruled by King Abdullah. Whilst it is still forbidden for women to drive in the kingdom, there is no legal or religious basis for the restriction but the guardianship system which operates in the country and in which a woman needs permission from a male relative to participate in certain activities means that women need a male chaperon. In order to place pressure on the monarchy, women have been driving for months in Saudi Arabia and are rarely stopped by police.