In 2019, a study conducted by Ipsos MORI, in collaboration with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London and International Women’s Day (IWD) attempted to examine global attitudes towards gender equality. The study questioned 18,800 online adults aged 16-64 across 27 countries, posing important questions about all aspects of this topic. From the United States to Serbia, both men and women were invited to share their opinion. From there, a question emerged: ‘Women’s Equality: have we done enough?’
According to the study, when participants were faced with the statement, ‘When it comes to giving women equal rights with men, things have gone far enough in my country’, 42% of people agreed. Overall, it seemed as though men were more likely to agree with this statement (46%), when compared to women (37%). While this number is under half of the global population questioned, it remains high enough to encourage discussion about what exactly it is that we have deemed ‘enough’.
Over the last century in Britain, women’s equality has become a central focus of campaign, with dedicated movements achieving pieces of equality that once seemed unobtainable – the right to vote (1918), the Family Planning Act (1967), the Abortion Reform Act (1969), The Divorce Act (1969), the Equal Pay Act (1970), and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975). The reforms, acts and bills mentioned above granted women the autonomy, independence and legal equality necessary to forge their own paths in a patriarchal society. But the stark reality is that these legal precedents, located in both first and second wave feminism, are not simple remnants of a bygone era that no longer affect us. To this day, women’s rights to these things are the subject of debate, not only in parliament, but in the classroom, with students often seeking to question contraception, abortion or divorce. Yet, debates about women’s bodily autonomy are not the sole reason that these acts seem to fall short. Legality can only extend so far when society refuses to change.
When I ask myself if women’s equality has gone far enough, I recall the stories of each of my female friends about abuse, assault and harassment. I have been sitting at this computer for some time now, attempting to think of a single female identifying friend who has not been the victim of some form of sexual harassment – and I cannot. From unsolicited nude photographs to sexual assault, they each have a story. And it is because of this personal experience that I find myself unsurprised by the harrowing 86% statistic with which we have all become far too familiar. It derives from a YouGov survey carried out by UN Women UK which claims that 86% of young women aged 18-24 have been the victim of some form of sexual harassment or assault. This alone proves to me just how much work we have left to do for women’s equality. Societally, something needs to change in order to prevent women living in fear: education on consent, the encouragement of discussions around male mental health, and the assurance that victims will be supported and taken seriously.
I’d also like to address the elephant in the room, as it were, the feeling I know many of my male identifying friends have surrounding the issues of feminism – their inability to see past a name. Men often feel excluded from the conversation, as though women’s equality has nothing to do with them. But, it does. In advancing this movement, there is the possibility to advance paternal rights, advocate for men’s mental health and destigmatize that which has been labelled unmasculine. Equality does not mean less for you, it means an equal seat at the table – one taken without fear.
The argument that we have done enough seems to rest upon the assumption that a vote and supposed security in the law are adequate. But, until women, and all those who define themselves as such, feel comfortable to simply exist within their own skin, we cannot claim to have done enough. Until women can run alone for exercise, or walk home after dark, or say ‘no’ with confidence, we cannot claim to have done enough. We can embrace, celebrate and respect everything that we have achieved and still find areas for improvement – it does not make us ungrateful; it makes us brave. And so, while we can be thankful that our rights are protected in legislature, it is now time to turn towards society and ask it, too, to protect us.