Today is International Women’s Day, which is incredibly important to us here at Centre. This is because it is a day that reminds us of barriers within society and how women are disproportionately affected by these. It also allows us to celebrate the achievements that have taken place to improve the position of women in society, along with the positive impact that this fairness has had on society itself.
However, this year, our contribution to International Women’s Day is something that is slightly different. There are many other organisations and companies that are talking about the issues and inequalities that women face. Therefore, we instead wanted to contribute something else, a new approach to thinking about how we get there. Instead of just focusing on individual policies that will enhance the rights of women in the short-term, we also need to passing policies that help in the future. The only way to do this is to work from the bottom-up, and ensure that women are empowered in every area of their life. The only way in which this widespread societal change is possible is through government intervention and the removal of the barriers that hold women back. We also need to stop thinking about policies being isolated from one another, but also interconnected to one another.
Often, the above is the case with the policy solutions and legislation that our government and other parties pass. More hours of free childcare for children under five doesn’t reduce the price that households will have to pay for childcare when those children are at school. Increasing the Carer’s Allowance by only £20 a week still doesn’t leave ‘unpaid’ carers, who are primarily women, enough to cover their bills. Criminalising prostitution or activities associated to it, like running a brothel, result in more women being put in danger due to them being unable to seek help if violence does occur and no legal protection.
We also need to get over the idea that simply being represented is enough, having women in senior positions does not mean that equality is guaranteed. Instead, it is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that everybody is given the same opportunities and that women are treated equally to the men around them. In order to do this, we need to start removing the additional burden that women experience and instead share it out wherever fair. All of our policies are passed with these two goals in mind.
Below, using childcare, we can demonstrate ways in which these would work in practice when it comes to the policy-decisions that we make.
Even though the Government currently provides 30 hours of free childcare for children that are 3 and 4 years old, as stated above, this policy alone is not enough, with women still experiencing a childcare barrier. As women are often seen as the caregiver, often they end up staying at home to look after them, with around 40% of women being in part-time work that are of working age. One main reason that women end up having to do this is often due to the lack of affordable childcare, where often it is cheaper for a parent to stay at home/work part-time than it is for them to continue in their old job/work full time. Part of the reason that women may also have to give up their jobs in a nuclear family structure, rather than the father, is due to women often earning less, perhaps due to the gender pay gap. When it comes to single mothers, the financial burden is often much heavier, with them having to use a huge proportion of their salary on childcare- meaning that they are often heavily financially restricted and their children may not be able to have the same opportunities as their peers. Here, we can clearly see how a number of policies are interlinked with each-other and that childcare cannot be viewed as one isolated policy alone.
By making childcare affordable for as long as possible throughout childhood, women are able to continue working whilst also having to face a minimal financial burden. This is an approach which has already been implemented in Sweden- and seems to be working. In this example, women remain relatively equal when compared to the men around them, with it being households rather than only women that pay the price. Both spouses now can continue working, instead of one (in most cases women) needing to leave due to a lack of childcare available. Moreover, in this case, keeping more women also has huge benefits for society. Workplaces remain diverse, more talent is kept in the economy and hence it is likely to do better in the global environment. As well as this, the financial burden for both partners can be decreased through policies like flexible working, which mean that less external childcare is needed. If Governments were to support policies such as these, it would also help to erode the stereotype that it is only women in the household that are caregivers, with men also having to play a role in looking after their children as they are at home more often.
Having policies that are passed with fairness in mind means that people will be treated the same regardless of their background which, in this case, also includes gender. By reducing the barriers that women face, we can inevitably change the structure of society overall, with that change lasting over generations. Having fairness in mind also means that the end result will be much more inclusive: without removing all barriers, we will only ever see ‘certain types’ of women get to the top, and not anyone. By removing all gender barriers, it also means that people who are non-gender conforming are able to reach the top too. In this case, even though it mainly benefits women, having affordable childcare is beneficial to any family or household and will ensure that nobody has to leave their job because they cannot afford childcare.
In conclusion, the only way in which to achieve female equality is if we advocate for fairness. This International Women’s Day, we thought that this is an important contribution when it comes to the conversation about how we can advance the position of women, as well as the solutions that we need to push in order to do so. Achieving equality will require the removal of all barriers, but doing so works for the whole of society. In this piece, this was demonstrated by the adoption of affordable childcare, where it can be seen that the removal of one barrier has positive knock-on effects on the whole of society.
It is this long-term approach that should be taken in terms of public policy when it comes to tackling the other barriers too. Thats why we are launching the “Equality works for you” campaign, to find policy solutions for both gender inequality and inequality more widely in society.
Written by Jasneet Samrai, our Deputy Director and Equalities Spokesperson.