Despite the fact that equality between men and women has been a political priority in the UK for a long time, nevertheless, progress on this issue is developing very slowly. Even if women have equal rights with men, they do not have the same access to opportunities provided by men, and their claim of their rights is not always successful. Regarding some issues, such as the wage gap (which is estimated to be close to 20%), there is a regression in a number of countries.
Another important indicator on the issue of equality is women’s access to political participation. Women are admitted to it, but their participation in political life, with some exceptions, is still insignificant. In 2003, the Council of Europe recommended that the ratio of male to female decision-making in political or public life should not fall below 40%. A recently published report shows that the average number of women ministers is 28.6%. The representation of women in national parliaments is no more than 21.7%. There has been some progress since 2005 with 19.9% of ministers being women, but the situation in parliaments has not changed.
Over the past decades, the most discriminatory laws and regulations have been reformed or abolished, and many attitudes have been changed, including affirmative action in favor of women. However, they still lack equal opportunities due to structural and social problems such as violence, exclusion in political and economic life, discrimination in employment and difficulties in reconciling professional and personal life.
Real women’s equality implies not only equality under the law, but it also means that men and women have equal understanding, authority, responsibility and equal participation in all spheres of public and political life.
Equality does not have to mean treating people the same. Just the opposite. In fact, the issue of inequality between men and women should be approached using a policy of differentiation. In recent years, many principles have been introduced in the UK, including affirmative action such as quotas, programs to support the specific needs of women, promoting their education, and women-led business projects. They give timid results, but we must assess their impact and formulate new goals if they are not effective enough.
We need concrete actions and specific goals to increase women’s participation in decision-making bodies. Women must be financially independent and governments must ensure equality in labor markets.
We don’t need super women – who are able to devote as much time to work as men and at the same time to take care of children and home. We need a culture of equal distribution of family responsibilities between men and women. Gender equality measures are needed to help parents reconcile work and family life, for example, by developing skilled family services, redefining work and school hours, and equal sharing of care and household responsibilities.
Gender equality should be prioritized in political action. The bias towards gender equality in all societal principles – what experts call “gender mainstreaming” – that is, the development of public budgets to address the specific and diverse needs of men and women, and the growth of affirmative action – all of these should be mandatory steps.
It seems that persistence of gender roles and deep cultural factors impede further progress. The effect can be achieved only by acting on the root of the problem. We need changes in culture, changes that can be realized only through education in schools and families, as well as with the full interest of the media. As long as gender stereotypes persist, discrimination will persist: today they – and not laws and regulations – are key obstacles to the advancement of women.
In the context of the economic and social crisis, there is a risk of diminishing attention to gender equality issues. It would be a mistake. The principles of gender equality should not be seen as a cost, but as an investment. They can make a significant contribution to society by making full use of the abilities, skills and creativity of all members of society, men and women alike.
Fighting discrimination is a long road, but it needs to be shortened. Barack Obama recently changed history by becoming the first African American to be elected to the presidency of the United States. One day a woman will become the president of the United States, and this will be a major milestone. In the UK, several women have already been elected heads of state and government.
Only once has a woman been elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe. I was the first woman to be elected Deputy Secretary General. What is an achievement on a personal level can also be considered a failure of the system. In the future, when the news that a woman has been elected or appointed to an important position or a woman has achieved something that only men have achieved in decades or centuries will no longer be a sensation, equality between women and men will become more real.
Equality between men and women in law and in practice is an integral part of human rights and democracy. We cannot allow inequality to persist, because democracy will be incomplete without equality.
Tags: gender, women, womens equality