I recently joined the discussion panel at ‘100 years on… The Long Road to Gender Equality’, an event hosted by Centenary Cities Nottingham. The aim of this was to explore the different challenges that still face women in today’s society, and the ways that these can be overcome. It is interesting to note that the issues we discussed were remarkably similar to those cited in the recent relaunch of the What Women Want project- a follow-up report of a nation-wide survey taken twenty years ago which asked women to write down what they, as women, wanted in society.
So, what IS it that we want? And how can this be achieved?
Mainly of course, we want gender equality, which can only happen once we manage to remove the extra challenges that disadvantage women because of their sex.
In Nottingham we discussed how many of these issues take place within the public sphere, for example through the rhetoric around women in the media and politics and the persistent street harassment many of us experience.
It is important that these behaviours are challenged. We have worked with the police to ensure such incidents are taken seriously and as a result, misogyny is now classified and recorded as a Hate Crime in Nottinghamshire. Alternatively, if you view sexist behaviours and feel comfortable to do so, you can call people out on it yourself!
Other challenges are experienced at home and in the workplace. Gender conditioning begins from a young age, with children growing up around the idea that certain roles or jobs are ‘gendered’ and that boys are better at more difficult, ‘sciencey’ subjects . There is also a significant underrepresentation of working class and ethnically diverse female role models for girls to identify with. These factors make it harder for some women to enter education and certain career paths.
Upon entering the world of work, women must then contend with issues such as unequal pay, harassment and sexist policies covering issues like maternity leave and child care. These problems can only really be solved through legislative changes, and perhaps if we had women occupying more leadership positions within companies they could set the correct policies and tone in the workplace.
As for harassment and abuse at work, here in Nottinghamshire we have begun our own #TimesUp network in an effort to make work a safer place for women.
Many respondents in the What Women Want survey felt disadvantaged with regards to pensions. Due to career breaks and time taken off to care for children, women earn cumulatively less than men throughout their lives and must often take part-time or casual work for the required flexibility of hours. As a result, they have poorer career progression and are now being forced to work for longer to receive their state pension.
In terms of our private lives, women also suffer from pressure to have children, to look and act a certain way and can be victims of attacks such as revenge porn and ‘upskirting’. In cases of domestic abuse and for survivors of trauma, women are in particular need of womens-only services and support groups, such as those we offer here at the Centre. A lot of the answers to these problems also lie within education and making sure our laws protect women from abuse and discrimination. The impact of having a strong and diverse range of female role models in the media and society must also not be underestimated, as seen by the high number of responses raising the issue in the What Women Want report.
At the end of a productive discussion, we asked ourselves the question: is gender equality within our grasp? The short answer to this is yes! But to get there we must ensure that we continue to question and challenge sexist behaviours when we see them, no matter how small, and we must call upon men to do the same. We must also continue to support the work of projects such as What Women Want, which engages with and listens to real ordinary, everyday women and gives them a voice in society.