And yet …By Jacqueline Briggs on 8 March 2018
One of the most viewed images from last week’s ‘snow-mageddon’ featured the Edinburgh bus driver, Charmaine Laurie, whose fantastic driving surely averted a near-disaster. In 21st century Britain, however, surprise is still expressed from some quarters that this skilful driving emanated from a woman! International Women’s Day, the 8th March, provides an opportunity for us all to pause and reflect. There is much to celebrate and recognise on this special day in terms of women’s place in the world and the advances that have been made over the past few decades. Women are now in positions of power and influence in numerous areas of political, economic and social life. In academia, there are more female Vice Chancellors than previously, circa 24 per cent. And yet, the pace of increase is slow. In the Westminster Parliament, there are more women than ever before, currently having attained the figure of 32 per cent. And yet, this is still less than half of the total number of MPs. There are currently six women in the cabinet, including the prime minister. And yet, this is only 26 per cent of the total in the cabinet. Women are to be found right across the spectrum and increasingly at the higher echelons. And yet, there is still a long way to go before true equality is attained. This year, it will be forty eight years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act and yet, equal pay is still not a reality. According to the Fawcett Society, the gender pay gap (overall mean for full-time workers) stood at 14.1 per cent in July 2017. Now that large companies are required, for the first time, to reveal their data on gender and pay, some shocking results are emerging, for example one investment bank where women’s bonuses were 73.3 per cent lower than their male colleagues. On another issue, domestic violence is treated more seriously than ever before, it is recognised in law. And yet, domestic violence remains a major problem in our society – with two women every week being killed at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.
Young women constitute the future and I would like to encourage more young women to get involved in politics, be that with a small or a large P. Women’s voices need to be heard. Let us use International Women’s Day to issue a rallying cry, particularly to our younger sisters, to get involved, to ensure their voices are heard and, above all, to never give up. Let us challenge sexism when we encounter it. Let us strive for a world where sexual harassment no longer exists. Laura Bates and others like her have achieved a great deal in ensuring that what might once have been regarded as minor indiscretions, as not worthy of note, are challenged and recognised as unacceptable. Young women, traditionally, have been the sector of the electorate least likely to cast their vote and yet there are so many policy areas that ought to be of interest and concern to them. With the increasing politicisation of young women, we may yet achieve a world where Charmaine Laurie’s superb driving will be recognised but her gender will remain a non-issue.
Jacqui Briggs is Professor of Politics and Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at The University of Lincoln.
Image: First Minister of Scotland CC BY-NC-ND