On this International Women’s Day, Polly Toynbee explains how we are going backwards instead of forwards in our quest for equality. You can thank Dave and his mates for that.
Turn back the clocks and rewind history for International Women’s Day today. This marks the first era in living memory that British women’s freedoms have gone into reverse, as women pay the heaviest price for government policies.
Intentionally or not, a male breadwinner with a dependent woman carer at home is the model on which the cuts are crafted, removing the supports to independence and sending women home. “The most family-friendly government ever” – promised at election time – is in retreat.
Women do twice as much unpaid caring as men, so when the safety nets go, so does their independence. Of the 710,000 public employees cut, 65% are women. Since women progress higher up the ladder in the public sector, expect their overall professional status to fall.
Cameron calls for more women in the boardroom – only 14% now – but he opposes EU plans for quotas. If his government seems blind to women, it doesn’t help that he has appointed only 21 women out of 119 ministers. Women earn less, own less, have less secure jobs, with three times more men than women earning in the top 10%.
And not only are women far from high-earners, but the pay gap is set to widen as we lose more and more public sector jobs:
The pay gap has narrowed annually for a generation, though women still earn 15.5% less than men. But for the first time in decades that gap is set to widen as losing public sector jobs where pay is far more equal tips the balance. Lib Dem raising of the tax threshold does least for women, as many earn below tax levels, but lose multiples more in benefit and credits.
And our rights and resources are further eroded when cuts will mean that women cannot afford legal representation in divorce cases and intimate partner violence cases. At the same time, essential services for abused women are being cut:
Winning rights in divorce has taken women decades, but wives will be powerless when they lose legal aid. For custody of their children and sharing assets, they must defend themselves in court while husbands may afford lawyers. This week’s NAO report shows CMEC, the child support agency, fails to get child maintenance for more than half of mothers – yet it will now depend on women paying a 12% commission from their average £30 a week payments. The fathers’ rebellion against paying finally wins the day as the government tells families to “sort it out for themselves”.
Half the women suffering domestic violence will lose legal aid as qualifying rules tighten. Women’s refuges, severely cut, report turning away 230 women a day with nowhere to send them. Expect teenage pregnancies to rise after falling 24% since 1998: in recent years the teenage pregnancy strategy finally discovered what worked. But that’s wound up, with smaller funds dispersed unringfenced to councils.
But we’ve never had it so good, right? And feminism is redundant, right? WRONG! In a culture were rape “jokes” are encouraged, where I am still afraid to walk alone after dark, where misogynistic attitudes and behaviours are applauded, where there is a growing movement to remove my right to decide what I want and do not want for my own body, where succeeding in your career is still gender-dependent, where our government actively want to put me and every other woman back in the kitchen (and, if we’re lucky, on a reserve workforce), and where millions of women in the world still have no rights at all, on this International Women’s Day, remember what we have achieved, but know that there is so much left to do.