Column: Equality vision still a pipe dream

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With its roots set in early 20th century women’s activism and subsequent take up by the Unite Nations, International Women’s Day provides us all with an opportunity to reflect and put the spotlight on women’s achievements and take stock of progress towards gender equality.

From this perspective, 2017 has been a pivotal year, the expose of industrial scale sexual abuse and harassment of women in showbusiness because of the Weinstein scandal and the phenomenal and much needed #MeToo campaign. Such was the ferocity of that campaign that on the back of that campaigns success, the charity I lead launched the #HearMyVoice campaign that resulted in more than 300 reports of racist discrimination and abuse in mainly the public sector in South and West Yorkshire in only two weeks. To put the impact of racism and gender discrimination into context, I suggest that people listen very carefully to the 102 capped England Football Player, Eniola Aluko’s testimony, and the price she had to pay for speaking truth to power and against racism – something that both Eniola and I have in common.

Issues such as equal pay for the same job is still a fight and legal struggle for many working-class women and for minorities, particularly hijab wearing women that research shows they face every ‘ism’ that exists in society – 71 per cent less likely to be employed compared to their white counterparts concluded by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee.

The cross-party committee said many Muslim women in the UK faced a “triple penalty” impacting on their job prospects - being women, being from an ethnic minority and being Muslim.

The impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women should not be underestimated. They are 71 per cent more likely than white Christian women to be unemployed, even when they have the same educational level and language skills, reads the report titled Employment Opportunities for Muslims in the UK.

The question is, how far have we come? On the plus side, in South Yorkshire, particularly at council level, at the top, evidently “Girl Power” is in full effect, we have leaders, a mayor and CEOs that are mainly women, we also have a healthy complement of MPs too, making their mark on the national stage. So, does that mean the vision of the 18th century women’s rights campaigner, Mary Wollstonecraft, of a future where women would be able to pursue almost any career without obstacle and barrier has been realised? The answer to that question is sadly no, that dream, vision is still a pipe dream for many women – and its worse for those women that are from poorer backgrounds and working class. For women and young girls, misogyny, patriarchy, power, privilege and entitlement are too often embedded in family, community and corporate structures manifesting and perpetuating gender-based inequality that prevents women from realising hopes and aspirations; even equal pay, for an equal day’s work compared to men.

Unequal pay is a big battleground for women in the public sector whether that be in the BBC, NHS or with Councils.

Unequal pay is a big battleground for women in the public sector whether that be in the BBC, NHS or with Councils. Female cleaners and dinner ladies in Birmingham took legal action over claims that they were paid less than binmen or male street cleaners.

Birmingham City Council agreed to pay more than £1bn to settle the claims of tens of housands of women which could stretch back over many years. To prove my point further, and to set this argument in context, Tesco is facing a demand for up to £4bn in back pay from thousands of mainly female shopworkers in what could become the UK’s largest ever equal pay claim.

The Tesco case follows similar actions against Asda and Sainsbury’s which are working their way through the employment tribunal process. Nearly 20,000 people are involved in the Asda case, where the latest ruling backing the shop workers right to compare their jobs to employees – mainly men – working in distribution centres.

The reality is that the Gender Pay Gap in the UK still exists, where women earn up to 14% less than men, In January 2018, Ladbrokes, Easyjet and Virgin Money revealed pay gaps of over 15% in favour of men.

The World Economic Forum found in 2017 that at the current rate of progress the global gender gap will take 100 years to close – in 2016 it was 83 years – a shameful decline. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress.