I was asked by my team to write an article to celebrate International Women’s Day and for it to be hopeful and inspiring. But as I read and thought around the subject, I realised that the reality is that even though much has changed there is still a long way to go.
For many of us it’s easy to forget that many of the rights that women expect today are really relatively recent – and even those rights that we do have are not exercised nor do our public institutions often prioritise them. It’s worth reminding folk that it wasn’t until 1991 that rape within marriage became illegal. Up until then husbands could rape their wives with impunity. Yet according to a YouGov survey, there are still more than one-third of people over 60 who do not believe that sex without consent within marriage is rape. There are still 16% of younger people who still believe it’s not rape.
Forced marriage was only outlawed in 1973. Up until 1975, women couldn’t hold a bank account in their own name. A woman couldn’t get a mortgage unless a man co-signed it as a guarantor. Believe it or not, up until the 1970s, women could still be refused the right to drink in a pub without a male companion.
Equality in education, work and training was only brought in in 1975, but that is not reflected in what we see.
According to a study by a student at the London School of Economics, only 45% of women are employed full-time compared to 61% of men. Only 35% of our MPs are women. Only 35% of board members in publicly listed companies are women. Only 35% of Local Authority Councillors are women. When you then look at the data on the situation for women of colour, the stats are even starker. Not one CEO in the FTSE 100 companies and not one senior civil servant is a woman of colour.
If you look at our sector, according to a survey by Civil Society Media, only 32 out of 93 CEOS leading the UK’s biggest charities are women. Yet 63% of CEOs of smaller charities are women. 67% of all workers in our sector are women – so how come they don’t dominate the top jobs?
The recently published Women and the UK Economy report in the House of Commons reports a gender pay gap across all employees of 14.9%. That means that for every £100 a man earns a woman earns just £85. If you extrapolate that to a £20,000 salary, a woman will only take home £17,020. £3000 less just for being a woman.
Legislation around the rights of women helps, of course – but if it’s not accompanied by changes in attitudes, it doesn’t stick. If you are one of those people who doesn’t believe that consent is necessary in marriage and you are a juror on a rape case, what are the chances of a conviction?
10% of working women own their own businesses, yet the FT reports that women, on average, have a 10-point lower credit rating score than men, are 16% less likely to be pre-approved for a credit card and on average have a 31% lower credit limit. Research by TotallyMoney and PWC found that 10.7 million women cannot access mainstream financial products.
And wait for it. The same report identifies that women provide £382bn of unpaid childcare every year. Women still carry the overwhelming burden of household chores, food planning and preparation, caring responsibilities and managing household duties.
So I can’t celebrate yet. Yes, things have changed – but there is still such a long way to go. And this article has just talked about women in the UK – all I have to do is say Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or indeed abortion legislation in the US, and you will know what I mean.
But the UK should be leading in this area. There are plenty of women’s groups and organisations that campaign for legislative changes (I list some below) – but it’s not enough. We as women can’t sit back and rely on others to make the cultural changes that are needed to truly have gender equality. We live and interact with men and other women. Our own behaviours, conversations and decisions, once aggregated, will start to embed this change in reality, not just theory.
Here are some things anyone can do today, no matter your gender:
- Celebrate other women! Tweet, Instagram, Tiktok the achievements of those you know
- Don’t diss other women. For their clothing, their lifestyle, their parenting.
- Talk about violence against women and girls as you hear about it. Don’t ignore stories of rape and violence against women in the media – talk to your children, your partners, even your parents about it.
- Apply for the big job even if you think you’re not qualified – you probably are, you’ve just talked yourself down. LinkedIn research shows that women apply for less senior positions than men do. The only thing stopping them is them. And get this – the same research shows that when women do apply for more senior positions they are in fact more likely to be hired than the men. If we don’t have women in senior roles, on councils, in Parliament, it’s not just about discrimination – it’s as likely that they just didn’t apply. So apply.
- And don’t get sucked into so-called Imposter Syndrome. That’s just a fancy name for feelings of insecurity, lack of confidence, embarrassment, and fear of being caught out. The reality is that those feelings can be used to drive you rather than inhibit you. Fear helps you to prepare. Insecurity helps you to be brave. Fear of being caught out means you make sure you know your stuff. Use them to propel you.
Women are vital to society. We matter. And we are awesome. Celebrate it, talk about it and engage in the behaviours that help to embed that view in all of our fellow citizens. We can make it better!
For more information and support the following selection of charities are a good starting point.
- Women’s Resource Centre
- ActionAid UK
- The Fawcett Society
- Women’s Aid
- Young Women’s Trust
- Rights of Women
- The Malala Fund