Equality in Legislative Language
Equality in Legislative Language
In 1985, the Victorian Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel adopted a gender neutral drafting policy for new legislation it drafts. This amends masculine pronouns from the provision in question. This is GREAT! However, there are multiple provisions in a large portion of legislation that are unlikely to see amendments any time soon, and continue to employ masculine pronouns, for example, you will see, 'a person is guilty of ... if he...', and, 'a police officer may...if he believes on reasonable grounds...' & 'a person will be liable if he...'.
We need a bill that proposes to revise all existing legislation, to achieve gender equality in legislative language and to employ gender neutral language such as “they” or “a person”. This process has been undertaken (embarrassingly, years ago) in international jurisdictions, and it is very doable here. Continuing this practice is archaic and its impact on gender equality (in addition to acting as a preventative measure against sexism, discrimination and gendered violence) would be immeasurable.
Many people will argue it won’t make a difference to important issues such as equal pay, violence against women, discrimination against women in minority communities etc. I agree that these are pressing issues, they are of upmost importance to me also. I feel that these problems are built on a society which once thought women or those who do not identify as women were not of enough value to reference in the texts of the law. I believe the attitudes that are subconsciously perpetuated by structures such as the text of the law, are one of the core reasons these issues are generated. For me, sitting in law school or working as an electoral officer and reading this everyday was, and is deflating and disempowering, I have also seen firsthand the effect that it has on men who see it as confirmation of their superiority. Women (or those who don't identify as men) feel disempowered, and men feel validated. Foundational matters play a huge role in the bigger issues. This is exactly why I am doing it, with the hope of changing attitudes so that big problems can be addressed.
If there is a way (there is) to make our laws read in a way which supports equality, why not do it? It may be a seemingly small change, but language matters. It especially matters in a time where a pandemic has seen a shift backward in terms of gender equality; women’s household work has increased, rates of gendered violence has increased and women were more likely to be made redundant in contrast to their male counterparts. Now is the time to make sure we don’t regress.
We have progressed too far to continue living in a world where being a man is the norm, and women, or those who do not identify as men, must work around this norm. This is a crucial shift to achieve, given it is enshrined in the text that dictates the laws we abide by. We should aim for representation and equality in all structures, even those that people think are insignificant. My aim is to garner support through this petition, and use it to secure a meeting with the Attorney General of Victoria to discuss a bill that would initiate the process of removing masculine pronouns from all legislation. Let's change it!