100 years on: how far are we from achieving gender equality?
On the 6th February 1918, women in the UK were granted the right to vote- a basic human right which men had had access to for years prior to this. Fast forward 100 years to 2018, and how much can we say has really changed? Have women gained any more human rights since then? And are we any closer to achieving gender equality in the next 100 years?
Back in 1918, the picture that resided in parliament was entirely different to what it is today. In 1919 Nancy Astor became the first woman to take a seat in the House of Commons. Following this, in 1929 Margaret Bondfield was the first woman to be appointed to cabinet. Since then, we have had two female Prime Ministers and last year’s General Election saw 208 women MPs elected to parliament – making a record high of 32% of all MPs women.
Such changes haven’t been limited to just parliament itself. Since 1918 the right for a woman to gain a good education has transformed into what it is today. It wasn’t until 1920 that women were finally given the right to graduate from university. Prior to this, they had to gain permission to attend university lectures and couldn’t officially graduate with a degree. UCAS figures from last year revealed that women are now a third more likely to go to university than men, with approximately 30,000 more women than men starting a degree programme in autumn 2017.
While this is a huge step in the right direction, once graduating into the working world it is clear that women aren’t considered to have the same credibility as men. The BBC pay gap figures from last year revealed the extent of inequality in the media industry, with a 6.8% pay gap amongst on-air staff working in the same roles and 12.6% gap among lower profile presenters and reporters. Not only this, but the Office for National Statistics in April 2017 found that men across the UK earned 18.1% more than women. As of April this year, firms with more than 250 employees will be required to publish their gender pay gap data, which is likely to make the issue even more prominent in the public eye.
Record numbers of women are in work today. Yet, pregnancy is still a huge barrier facing many women. Pregnant women and mothers have reported more discrimination and poor treatment at work than they did a decade ago. However, one positive change that has been made since 1918 is the Shared Parental Leave act of April 2015 which grants parents the right to split the 52-week maternity leave, usually given to women alone. This not only allows new parents to share the responsibility of caring for their child, but it also gives women the opportunity to get back to work and so be taken just as seriously as men working in the industry.
Another issue currently high on the horizon is the safety of women in both the workplace and general daily life. The #metoo campaign, along with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, has highlighted the extent of the matter not only in the UK but across the world. ONS figures for the year ending in March 2016 also show how women in England and Wales are nearly 5 times as likely to have experienced sexual assault than men, emphasising just how much attitudes towards women still need to change.
Attitudes towards women are heavily impacted by how they are portrayed in the media. Back in the 1920’s adverts such as this one below for Rinso soap and detergent with the tag line ‘Rinso White or Rinso Blue? Both wash whiter and brighter than new! The choice, dear lady, is up to you!’ were openly sexist.
Today, while advertisements try not to portray gender stereotypes in this way, some companies can’t seem to avoid making such assumptions. The baby milk formula brand Aptamil, in their 2013 advert, showed girls growing up to be ballerinas and boys growing up to be engineers. Similarly, clothing brand Gap’s 2016 advert portrayed a little girl wearing a t-shirt labelled ‘the social butterfly’ telling us she would grow up to be ‘the talk of the playground’ while the little boy in the ad wore a t-shirt labelled ‘little scholar’ telling him ‘your future starts here.’
In response to harmful gender stereotypes in adverts such as these, the Advertising Standards Authority are issuing new standards in Spring 2018 to tackle the issue. They explained in a statement how ads that reinforce gender roles had ‘costs for individuals, the economy and society.’
All things considered, it is safe to say society has transformed in many ways from what it was in 1918 and women gaining the right to vote is just one of these changes. However, many more steps need to be taken if we are to achieve gender equality 100 years from today.