Have Women's Rights Laws Been Upheld?

Issues of gender equality still dominate our newspapers and our lives, even though the laws for women’s rights were primarily passed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Equal pay, access to childcare, contraception, discrimination and domestic violence are still problems faced by women. 

Equal Pay has been a topic of debate since 1956 when equal wages were agreed for teachers and civil servants. Prior to this, despite having the same job description as the men, women were paid less. After women’s strikes in 1968 at the Ford factory, dramatised in the film ‘Made in Dagenham’, the equal pay act was passed in 1970 making it illegal to pay a women less than a man.

However, nearly fifty years on and our headlines are outrageously still telling the tale of the gender pay gap within institutions that we should respect. The recent resignation of Carrie Gracie as BBC China editor over unequal pay reflects this. From April 2018, any organisation employing more than 250 people will be required by law to quarterly publish the gender pay gap in their company.

Equal Representation is a pressing issue with only 32% of MPs and 33% of councillors being women. We need to see this pushed to 50% to fairly represent the interests of the female population. Again, this progress has been slow with Lesley Abdela launching a campaign for equal representation in the House of Commons as far back as 1989. This was re-addressed by Theresa May in 2005 through the Women2Win campaign. Yet more needs to be done to protect women in politics as 40% councillors said that they had received sexism within their own party.

Domestic violence and sexual violence remain important issues to women today. Why should women feel that they cannot walk home alone or have to take a longer route to avoid a park? According to reports 1 in 4 women will encounter domestic abuse in their lifetime. Domestic violence was not made illegal until 1976 (more than fifty years after the vote was gained). And even more surprisingly rape within marriage did not become a crime until 1994.

Rights of working women in relation to child support have improved hugely since times of being dismissed for having a child. The push away from maternity to shared parental leave has existed since April 2015 but only 2% of couples eligible for this take up the scheme because going on maternity or paternity leave reduces the salary by 10%. Moreover, until a child is two years old they are too young to attend nursery and there are no free government schemes to aid in care. How are women supposed to immediately return to work without the flexibility of being a mother?

More specifically there are institutional problems for women in society. Only 5% of the total prison population are women and most serve short sentences with 70% serving six months or less. 46% of women have suffered from domestic abuse and over half were abused as children. Therefore, gender inequalities in their lives have made these women vulnerable and desperate.

Another area little discussed in politics is the way that sex workers are treated in the UK. They suffer little protection and have a 12 times higher mortality rate then the average UK resident. Not enough is being down by UK government to prevent sex trafficking and prosecution for these crimes is both low and has comparatively short sentences for the crimes involved. The maximum sentence given to Rochdale sex traffickers was 19 years with some only receiving as little as 3 or 5 years.

Women may have come a long way, but there is further to go still.