The Guardian (one of my favourite print publications) published an article yesterday about the findings of the Equal Opportunity Commission in Britain. The Commission found the usual suspects
· A “power gap” in parliament, where only 20% of MPs are women. At the current rate, it will take 195 years for this to close and 65 years to achieve a gender balance in the boardrooms of the top companies listed in the FTSE 100 index;
· A “pensions gap” that leaves retired women with 40% less income than male contemporaries; this gap could take 45 years to close;
· A “part-time pay gap” will take 25 years to close and the “full-time pay gap” 20 years, in a system that now pays women 38% less per hour than men for working part time and 17% for full-timers;
· A “health gap,” disadvantaging men that may never close unless the NHS adopts more male-friendly practices to address the problem that men aged 16-44 are less than half as likely as women to consult their GP, resulting in later diagnosis of serious illnesses.
What I think is most important is the seriousness with which they approach the problem. They have developped a commision to deal with the issues, and though acknowledging the strides that women have made in the last 30 years, they don’t pretend that we have achieved ‘equality’ within our current social/political climate.
“life around us has not caught up and we are living with the consequences of an unfinished social revolution. We are still faced with many workplaces, institutions and services designed for an age when women stayed at home. In other areas of modern life, inequality underpins life and death issues. For example, every month seven women are killed by their partner or ex-partner.”
Women are five times more likely to feel unsafe when walking alone in their area after dark. But not all issues of public safety result in advantages for men. Over the past year 13% of young men were victims of violent crime, compared with 7% of young women.
The commission said 45% of pregnant women experience “tangible discrimination”. Mothers spend 12% more time than fathers looking after children and the “chores gap” is worsening, with women spending an average 180 minutes a day on housework, against 101 minutes for men.
The EOC set five priorities. They were: closing the income gap between men and women; giving better support to families; modernising public services; providing equal access to justice and safety; and sharing power equally.
Jenny Watson, the commission’s chairwoman, said: “Today, most women work, many men no longer define themselves as breadwinners and both sexes often struggle to find the time they need to care for others in their lives. Despite many advances, Britain’s institutions have not caught up with these changes.
“A country that channels women into low-paid work, fails to adequately support families and forces people who want to work flexibly to trade down in jobs pays a high price in terms of child poverty, family breakdown and low productivity. This is a challenge that Gordon Brown’s new government urgently needs to address.”
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: “With men still dominating senior positions in business, politics, and almost every walk of life, it’s crucial that achieving gender equality is a top priority for the new commission.”
Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader and minister for women, said: “There is still inequality between men and women in our economy and society that needs to be tackled … We aim to achieve this by giving women more choices in the workplace, in public life and in the home.”