The Fight Ahead

This is a guest post by Rhianna Ketley who blogs at The Public Woman

Yesterday was the 101st International Women’s Day (IWD). Every year on this day, people come together to celebrate the achievements of women in history and the present. But it’s also an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the many ways in which gender inequality still permeates our world. Here are some of my top priorities for making the UK a better place to be a woman.

Childcare Provision

It has been 40 years since the Equal Pay Act, and women are still earning an average of 14.9% less than men for full time work. That’s if they can even get this kind of employment – women are disproportionately under-represented in full time roles. Poor childcare provision plays a huge role in this depressing situation. Women still make up the overwhelming majority of single parents, and in families where the father is around, women remain the primary carers for their children. Part of the solution is for men who don’t do their fair share of parenting to step up. An inevitable aspect of a more equal society entails men giving up some of their privileges – now women have a more prominent role outside the home, men need to be making a proportionate sacrifice to fill the gap in childcare. But the buck doesn’t rest there. A study by the Institute of Public Policy Research has shown that contrary to the Tory Government’s pledge to make work pay, many mothers are actually being forced to leave work because of the increased cost of childcare. There has been a 10% cut in the amount of childcare costs that can be claimed through tax credits, and a 22% cut in the sure start grant. International Women’s Day was originally called International Working Women’s Day. Supporting women into work in a real way should be a priority for 2012.

Gender Stereotyping Children.

I don’t have much to say on this topic that can’t be better summed up by the excellent child in the YouTube clip below. Until we stop treating our children differently, setting them up for different aspirations, and forcing different identities on them based on their gender, there is little hope for the future of equality between the sexes. A report in 2008 by Girlguiding UK cited premature sexualisation, pressure to grow up too quickly and magazines promoting plastic surgery and thinness as female ideals among the factors contributing to poor mental wellbeing in teenage girls. This theme for this year’s international women’s day website is ‘Connecting girls, inspiring futures’. I expect that few things are more important in achieving this goal than the dismantling of gender stereotyping in children.

Addressing Rape

That the UK has the worst rape conviction rates in Europe (6%) has become a widely known statistic in recent years – and this sorry figure doesn’t even take into account the women who are too scared to report the rape. So why is this shameful situation failing to improve? Why are women who face sexual violence at the hands of men still denied justice? There are many things that could be done to address this. Debunking rape myths, running national anti-stigma campaigns to combat victim-blaming (including among young people) and improving services for women who need support after an assault would all be a good start.

More Women in Parliament

We need better representation. And not just any women will do – we need true diversity. That includes disabled women, BME women, working class women, gay women, women from the full range of backgrounds found in the UK. The Fawcett Society estimates that at the current rate of change it will take 14 elections (or 70 years) to achieve an equal number of women MPs. Politicians are happy to talk the talk when it comes to matters like women only shortlists, and on a recent episode of Question Time Tory MP Louise Mensch claimed David Cameron was the most feminist Prime Minister we’ve ever had. But the fact remains that the UK ranks 53rd in the world on the proportion of women in parliament, lower than Rwanda and Mexico among others. It is time for UK  politicians to stop just talking about gender equality and prove to us they are as “feminist” as they like to tell us they are.

You can find out more about some of these issues over at The Fawcett Society

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