Gender inequality in contemporary Britain Essay

Gender inequality in contemporary Britain

View that gender inequality exists

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Gender inequality is a social phenomenon that has managed to persist in some form or other in most of the developed countries of world, despite decades of education, feminist movements and call for a egalitarian and equality based society. Difference in sex has always been used as a pretext in differential allotment of resources and privileges in every society.Although Britain has taken various concrete measures in providing equal status and rights to women, yet some inconsistencies still exist in the present system that point to unequal status of women against men.

Two main areas where gender inequality plays important discriminatory roles are education and employment. Although, in recent years laws have been passed that have given equal status to women in field of education and wages in the work-field, abolishing formal restrictions on equal participation of women,  still many discrepancies exist that sharply demarcate the relative role of men and women in British society. As pointed out by Crompton (1997, 125), there has not been any change in the hierarchical status of social and economic structure and men continue to enjoy a powerful position in work and social spheres while women are generally subordinates. Although Britain has introduced policies that have created more job opportunities for women, generally these jobs are less paid and inflexible.

A principle tool to continue the gender discrimination is the perceived notion that still associates women mainly with domestic work and childcare functions. The social structure of Britain still has patriarchal shades that place firm emphasis on family based system, where the man is assigned role of principle bread earner while woman is entrusted with responsibility to manage home, which also in effect reflects the Victorian culture of Britain (Kent, 1999, 350).

It can be said as an irony that the greater impetus to revert to traditional Victorian family based system came during times of Margaret Thatcher when government tried to create conditions that would force women to abandon their work and return back to house chores. For example, under Thatcher government support to childcare nurseries were withdrawn on the pretext that these nurseries were unable to meet the requirements of growing children, and thereby pressurizing working mothers to choose between children and career (ibid).

Employment and labor market provide most critical instances of gender inequality in Britain. Although women participation in work has greatly increased over past decades, their role and participation are very different in the paid work as compared to their male counterparts. For example men and women take different kind of jobs, they work on different levels in many occupations and, the most highlighter of gender inequality, men and women are paid differentially for their work where remuneration of women are considerably lower (Pilcher, 1999, 34).

Gender inequality also exists in the form of work offered to men and women. Men are generally preferred for the standard form of work, that is, full time paid works. According to statistical data presented by Crompton (1997), in 1997 of all the people working full time, men were 67 %. In contrast, part time jobs, which are low paid are have greater participation of women. In case of self employment also dominance of men continued where they comprised 77 percent of the all the self employed individuals. Women participation was 70 % in home-working that is considered as low paid, less prestigious and non standard work (Crompton, 1997).

Evidence of gender based inequality is widely present in the nature of services that men and women are engaged in. Due to purely gender based reasons, women are generally concentrated in clerical, secretarial and personal services in hospitals, hotels, and educational fields where they represented more than three quarter of total working strength whereas they barely reached to 10 % in more rewarding fields of science, engineering and skilled crafts (Sly, Thair and Risdon 1998).

Gender based discrimination manifest itself strongly in payment conditions. Pilcher (1999) cites various sources to give figures that show on average full time working women earn just 72 % of a men’s average fulltime earnings. Among various factors accounting for this discrepancy, the most plausible is that women’s skills are undervalued in the working environment.

Based on these examples we can see that despite many acts, legislations and feminist movements, gender inequality still forms a major undercurrent in the British society.

View that gender inequality doesn’t exist in Britain

Although gender based inequality was a part of British society until 1970s, progressive laws, government acts, and second wave of feminism, especially radical feminism and Marxist feminism have acted together to create a contemporary British society that is largely free of gender bias, viewing and treating women at part with men in social, educational, labor and political circles.

The first round of feminist movements had championed the cause of universal suffrage and equal rights for women. However, with 1960s, the second wave of feminist movement gained pace. It was more concerned with sexual rights and liberation of woman from traditional and capitalist class based society (Kent, 1999). Abortion was suddenly no longer a taboo, pills were used frequently, and female power was unleashed against a society so far dominated by men.

These ideological movements had deep impact on psyche of British society and it responded by enacting a number of laws that reflected the changing social pattern and mentality. The most important interventions were made at providing equal economic rights to women in acceptance of the fact that women are equal participant in social process. The Abortion Act of 1967 gave women freedom to terminate pregnancy on medical or psychological grounds, in 1973 women were given equal rights of guardianship over children (Pilcher,1999). Women gained rights to equal pay with Equal Pay Act of 1970 which was followed by The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 to eliminate antisocial practice against discrimination with women based on their gender (McClogan, 1997, 153). The result was that discrimination against women ended in educational, technical, and scientific and employment sectors.

An additional positive development in the direction of gender-based equality is change in policies of trade unions towards women. As stated by Crompton (1997), labor unions have come to realize the important role of women in expansion of market and labor-market development, thereby willingly changing existing model of paid employment. Women’s position has further strengthened in the paid work market due to falling birth rates, and rising cost of living where it is no more possible for a man alone to sufficiently meet all the expenses of the family. Introduction of new appliances such refrigerator, vacuum cleaners, and electric ovens have also helped women to effectively manage both their domestic and professional responsibilities.

These mrasures provided the British feminist movement with important steps to demand for changes in law, social structure and economic system to achieve not only gender based equality but total freedom from the existent oppressive conditions. Evidences of abolition of gender inequality are numerous. One of the notable example is that prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have removed the restrictions that had so far barred admitting women in streams of medicine and special crafts. Women shares in jobs have reached to almost 50 %. Margaret Thatcher became first woman Prime Minster in 1979, House of Lords has seen its first woman leader in Baroness Young in 1981, Betty Boothroyd became first woman speaker of the House of Commons in 1992, and Ann Bowtell was appointed as first woman Civil Service Commissioner in 1993 (Pilcher, 1999). These are indicators that women participation has increased taking place at more complete levels and there are no more gender based niches and prerogatives in the society

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Reference

Crompton, R, 1997,Women and Work in Modern Britain, Oxford University Press,Oxford.

Kent, SK, 1999, Gender and Power in Britain, 1640-1990, Routledge, London

McColgan, A, 1997, Just Wages for Women,. Clarendon Press. Place of Oxford

Pilcher, J, 1999, Women in Contemporary Britain: An Introduction. Routledge. London.

Sly, F., Thair, T. and Risdon, A. (1998),  Women in the Labour Market: Results from the Spring 1997 Labour Force Survey’, Labour Market Trends, 106(3): 97-119.

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