The Working Women’s Charter: Then and Now

31 Jan

Guest post by Florence Jillett. Originally posted here.

It was at my first meeting with the Cardiff Feminist Network that I was made aware of the Working Women’s Charter, first published in the seventies. Upon hearing the demands made by the Women’s Liberation Movement (equal pay, opportunity, education and working conditions being the main issues) I realised that perhaps nothing has changed.

It’s 2015 and the pay divide between women and men is still 35% for top executives. This is four decades after the equal pay act (popularised in the Made in Dagenham film and now musical) and when you take into consideration that women are more likely to work part time and take time out of their careers in order to have and care for children, and the fact women statistically live longer but pay less into their pension then men, this means serious hardship for women later in life.

One other point, education, is still an issue. Recently Emma Watson made headlines when under the hashtag #heforshe a young girl asked her what should she do to prove her father wrong when he said women couldn’t be engineers as it was a man’s profession. Watson replied “Become an engineer”. Although according to a report in 2014 that women are a third more likely to gain a university place then men, they still lag behind in typically male subjects such as maths and science. Whether this is due to the worrying report that women suffer from the “Imposter syndrome” which is the feeling described in Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” as being the feeling of inadequacy or the idea you’re successes are based on luck not talent (also called the “Fraud Police” as named by Amanda Palmer in her 2014 book “The Art of Asking”) more likely then men and don’t feel that they can succeed in these fields is something we need to address.

And if they do go to University and do a male subject, they may encounter more sexism whilst there. In the book based on the website of the same name “Everyday Sexism” it is reported that nearly 70 per cent of female university students have experienced verbal or non verbal harassment in or around their institution (NUS Hidden Marks Survey 2010) and it was recently reported in The Independent Newspaper that 74% of students are aware of lad culture and sexually provocative websites like “Unilad” and the “Lad Bible” and a vast percentage have heard rape “jokes” being bantered about. Indeed when I was at university you had to weigh up how much you wanted to wear your new dress versus how little you wanted someone to stick their hand underneath it at the club.

Child care is still a serious issue for mothers. Most women want to return to their place of work after having a child, but despite the Women’s Working Charter wanting extended hours, free of charge and suitable for working mothers childcare and nurseries there is still a struggle for working mothers. It is a mother who faces the brunt of child care because is a woman who has the extended maternity leave. Paternity leave is paltry compared to maternity leave, but in my opinion extended paternity leave would be the biggest benefit to women because then there wouldn’t be the issue of whether a woman of childbearing age was going to have a child later in life when applying for a job and be stigmatised because of it because a man would be just as likely to take a significant amount of time off work to care for his child. I do not have my own children but have seen first hand how my sisters hours, responsibilities and therefore pay at her job were reduced after she had my nephew.

In May of last year the Tory Government boasted of their advancement of equality for women, and although a 7% increase in female MPs is an achievement that still only takes us to 30%. It was around that time that the UK, the sixth largest economy in the world was ranked joint 26th with Belarus (ranked 67th in the economy scale) in the World Mothers Index. Bad times indeed. Little to celebrate I think.

So what can we do? And here I’m going to get you to do some homework.
Write to your local politician. Hell, write to David Cameron. Join a local feminist group or set one up. Go through your local councils budget and see what is being spent and where, how much is going to women and their needs? Then if you don’t like what you see write another letter to your council. Do something for International Women’s Day. Think about an issue you care about. I am passionate about practical help for women in poverty and am going to organise a feminine products drive at a local supermarket.

Just do something. Make a difference. Change the world a little bit at a time.

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