Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher Advancing Gender Equality: Recruitment, Roles, Pay, and Pensions in the Armed Forces

Article excerpt

Abstract

Margaret Thatcher, the United Kingdom 's first female Prime Minister, moved to initiate policy that would see gender equality in recruitment and pay in the armed forces, but not for pensions or combatant roles. In a review of the events and Thatcher's formulation of policy toward women in the armed forces, as a debate on gender equality and social justice, the salient variables and issues taken into consideration include: Thatcher's personal agenda; her ideological position; her policy priorities; her relations with women organizations; the domestic and international political situation in which she lived; and such concerns that she might have entertained, such as appearing to show favoritism toward other women or indeed appearing to be weak. Thatcher, the Member of Parliament, had preference to gender equality, though, once elected Prime Minister, prioritized pragmatism and patriotism due to circumstances.

Adrian Kay (2005) succinctly summed up the debate on equality, noting that it exerts a powerful hold on contemporary thinking about justice (Sen, 1992). Kay quotes G. A. Cohen (1989), who states that justice is about rendering people equal in some respect, and Brian Barry (1989) who affirms that "the central issue in any theory of justice is the defensibility of unequal relations between people" (p. 3). Kay continues by highlighting that

A question for all discussions of justice is: what is the right way to treat people equally? The answer to this question will always have two components: what is to be allocated equally (or in alternative terms, what is the distribuendum ) and how is it to be allocated equally (i.e. according to which principle). (2005, p. 545)

Taking these notions into consideration and to further debate them with evidence, this article will use the case of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, Member of Parliament and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom , who by way of legislation and executive decisions introduced certain but not other changes to further gender equality and social justice in the armed forces. There is no other writing that tackles this issue in such a fashion.

The debate on equality and justice, in particular, gender equality and social justice, is salient to Thatcher's political career as a Member of Parliament, and subsequently as Prime Minister. Thatcher (1993, 1995, 2002) notes this frequently in her autobiographies and writings. These writings, and indeed the election of Margaret Thatcher as the United Kingdom 's first female Prime Minister in 1979, might have led to an underlying assumption that she would necessarily champion equal opportunities and equal rights for women in all walks of life. This assumption has also been noted in many writings, including those of Arnold (1984), Cosgrave (1985), Ewing (1990), Harris (1988), Kavanagh and Seldon (1989), Riddell (1989), and Thomson, (1989). Such an assumption might well have been based on the 1,287 public speeches on women and gender equality that Thatcher had made reference to in the period 1945-1979 prior to having been elected Prime Minister. These speeches indicate that there is no doubt that Thatcher was a protagonist of policy changes for women at work throughout her career as a politician. When Thatcher (1999) was questioned about her stance on gender equality in an interview, "D o you not think women should be given extra help?", she responded, "I would do anything to try to give them extra help" (Speech 47). When interviewed in a radio interview with Radio New Zealand on August 10, 1982, she expressed this as a social justice and not as feminism. She pragmatically stated,

Feminism-no, I get along quite well without it. I think that the main battles for women's right to vote and to stand in Parliament were won quite a long time ago and it now is up to us what we do with those freedoms, but there's no need any more I think to be strident about them, I think we should see them wholly in perspective. …