14 March 2017
International Women’s Day – The Battle For Gender Equality
As we celebrated International Woman’s Day last week we ask ourselves, what have we to celebrate?
There have undoubtedly been advancements since 15,000 women walked through the streets of New York in 1908 demanding social and political rights. However is where we are now, where we want to be in a modern democratic society?
The most recent Global Gender Gap Report shows that 68 out of the 142 countries covered by the index have increased their overall gender gap score compared to the previous year, meanwhile, 74 have seen it decrease.
The gap between women and men in economic participation and political empowerment remains wide and the progress made this year is at the lowest value since 2008, predicting that economic gender equality will not be achieved for another 170 years.
The UN estimates it will take 70 years to close the gender pay gap globally.
UN Woman records that only 50 per cent of working age women are represented in the labour force globally, compared to 76 per cent of men. The overwhelming majority of women are in what is referred to as the informal economy, subsidising care and domestic work. This is neither taxed nor monitored by the government and is typically concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations with little or no social protection.
At the highest levels of business, gender inequality persists. Only three per cent of Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO and a quarter of all FTSE 100 boards are still completely comprised of men according to the World Economic Forum.
Lesbian women earn nine per cent more than heterosexual women on average as reported by a Washing University study which analysed 29 studies on wages and sexual orientation from different countries.
These results led Daniella Paquette of The Washington Post to identify the reason behind this disparity as being men, and coin the issue as a ‘wife premium’. Ms Paquette pointed to findings that in same-sex couples the distribution of work appeared to be more even, whereas in heterosexual couples women tend to take on more of the childcare and housework.
This uneven distribution of childcare and housework is echoed by UN studies which estimate that woman carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid and care work than men.
These studies identify that inequality at home has a significant effect on woman’s ability to seek parity in the workplace. It goes to show that traditional and stereotypical belief systems within the home continue to contribute to conscious and unconscious biases which hold woman back from achieving equality throughout society.
Once in the workplace women continue to be treated unequally. This inequality is laid bare when it comes to the recent hot topic of staff uniforms. A number of companies have come under fire recently for dress codes which discriminate and objectify woman.
The strength of public feeling on this issue was exhibited by the matter being debated in Parliament following a public petition receiving over 150,000 signatures. Throughout the course of this debate, MPs were shocked by the extent of the discrimination and the manner in which employers seek to exert control over the way in which woman present themselves once in the workplace.
Steps Towards Gender Equality in The UK
Taking account of the fact that only 67 countries across the world have laws against gender discrimination in the workplace, there have been some positive steps to speak of here in the UK.
The new legislation on Gender Pay Gap Reporting is mandatory. Although admittedly there is no enforcement mechanism and it has only been brought in after the Government’s voluntary approach failed to change business behaviour.
There have also been positive advancements in achieving equal pay in the UK throughout the public and private sector, pushed forward by working woman standing up against unfair pay.
In order to assist this, The Fawcett Society has launched an inquiry into UK sex discrimination legislation due to fears over the impact of Brexit. The Women and Equalities Committee has called for legislation to ensure there is no “going backwards” on discrimination law following leaving the European Union.
International Women’s Day
The aim of International Woman’s Day is to achieve full gender equality for woman across the world.
As we can see, this is a long way from being realised, with woman being under-represented throughout business and politics globally.
The UN Women’s theme for this year is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” and we all have a part to play in this. We will continue to fight for full equality of woman in the workplace throughout all industries by pursuing equal pay and equal opportunities, the right to flexible working and that dignity and respect is afforded to all in the workplace.
Colin Davidson is an employment solicitor based in Slater and Gordon Lawyers’ London office.