What we can and should do NOW to make gender equality happen

A really interesting and stimulating report was published a couple of weeks ago by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which justifiably claims to be the UK’s leading progressive thinktank. Their reports are always worth reading – full, detailed, current and to the point, they are a wealth of information as well as, in the main, offering some very practical forward-thinking solutions. Their latest report, Great Expectations: Exploring the Promises of Gender Equality, is an excellent read – a must-read, even – and I thoroughly recommend it.

The main premise of the report is that the time has come to move beyond just empowering women to change. Instead, the authors identify key areas in which – structurally – our society effectively prevents real gender equality from becoming embedded, despite all the legal frameworks in place. The authors look in turn at the state of women in work, drawing on personal experiences as well as on official statistics, and then turn their attention to women as carers – “the ‘unpaid economy” – and then women in cultural life.

The report’s conclusion is quite clear: “Overall, we need a gender politics that is less about how women can succeed in a man’s game, and more about how to change the rules of the game.” In order to do this, the authors argue, we need to be asking different questions from those we largely ask at present: “We should ask whether women’s interests are best served by a focus on women’s ability to compete on an equal footing with men, or by raising the status of the jobs that women do. Whether the gender pay gap is better addressed by promoting women in top jobs, or by tackling low pay and insecurity at the bottom. Whether the difficulties faced by working parents are better addressed by defending women’s right to maternity leave, or a transformation of the role of men in the home. And how much of this can be achieved by state capture, and how much requires us to build democratic coalitions for change.”

It is undeniably and demonstrably the case that gender equality has made amazing strides forward in the past century. In 1913, few democracies in the world allowed women to vote, to earn money for themselves, or to own property. The world has changed. But it is has also reached a sticking point, and we can’t let this progress stagnate. We need to devote creative thinking power to the issue, and we need to do this now. And as this report so powerfully concludes, we need to do this together. Together we are stronger; together we can explore, collectively, how to dismantle the fossilised structures which are preventing women and men from working and living on an equal footing, and together we can build new and empowering structures which just make it all work.

What a great goal … and if we set our minds to it, I truly believe that it is in sight.


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