Nicola Thorp, 27, began a petition after she was sent home from her temp job when she refused to wear shoes with a ‘2in to 4in heel’. The investigation - launched by the petitions committee - will look at what the problem is, what the law says and what could be done to make the law better, the government said.
JULIAN VIGO draws together multiple issues affecting women including the recent protests made by French female politicians; sexual harassment in the workplace; poor representation in professions; poor pay and priorities for spending. Julian finishes by supporting the UK parliament5050 campaign. The question at the end is how to achieve 5050? We reckon that our democracy5050 model is a truly democratic option to be considered.
Effects on health
All this comes as no surprise to women who have been dealing with pay and promotion inequality for their entire lives with the added bonus of sexual harassment. But what are the costs of pay and promotion inequality in addition to sexual harassment? We already know that girls who routinely experience sexual harassment are significantly more likely to attempt suicide, but little is said about these repercussions on women who suffer “widespread and often serious health, emotional, and economic consequences.” And the economic impacts for discrimination and harassment are little explored in the media which are often the major factor playing into the future mental and physical health of women.
Loss of earnings in a lifetime
According to data published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (now part of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights), “the average woman working full-time could lose out on £330,000, in comparison with men’s earnings, over the course of her working life.” Similarly, they investigated similar inequalities within the financial sector specifically where the pay gap was explained in terms of: stereotyping in the recruitment processes, the sector’s extremely young age profile proves a challenge to those with children, the sector’s long hours’ culture also affects those with children, the intractability of senior leaders to take action on sex inequality and the lack of enforcement of good practices. Also according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, female graduates earn up to £8,000 less than males who studied the same subject.
Pay gap and the burden of being the primary care-giver
If the Fawcett Society’s 2008 report on women’s pay inequality wasn’t shocking enough then their 2013 study is enough to bring one to tears: “New figures from the Office of National Statistics published in December 2013 show the pay gap widening for the first time in five years.” And the reasons the Fawcett Society gives for this widening gap are the same reasons for sex-based oppression of women throughout recent history: women’s work is undervalued, more women work part-time, the “motherhood penalty,” and more generally that sex-based discrimination has not gone away. Because of their decreased earning power, women use their money quite differently: they invest in their children, the home, and they save over investing.
Less to invest
RateSetter carried out research which showed that men are significantly more likely to own investment products (66% of men compared to 48% of women). Data suggests that women do not tend to move towards long or short-term investment products simply because, according to this report, they have 50% less of disposable income at the end of each month.
Link to 50:50
And when one examines those countries with a closer economic parity between the sexes, one thing is painfully evident: that salary equality is maintained in countries where there is a balance of political representation of females and males.
Recently there was a petition, 50:50 Parliament, to request a 50% representation of women in Parliament because shockingly, in 2016 in the UK as well as other western countries, females are not fairly represented. With less than a 30% female presence in the House of Commons, one can only wonder if the more equitable presence of women in Parliament might not begin to effect real social change. And in the US, the representation of women in the 114th Congresses is lamentable with only 20 female senators out of a total of 100 (a 20% presence) and 84 female congress members in the House of Representatives out of 535 (a 19.4% presence).
I have recently written my MP, Mark Field, to request that he take action to ensure a 50% presence of women in Parliament. The larger question remains: how to effect this change?
UK MP Angela Eagle discusses the steps towards greater involvement of women in the UK parliament and laments the fact that politics remains stuck in a masculine paradigm in language and male culture:
The past 30 years have seen steady and significant progress in women’s representation. When I was first elected to parliament in 1992, I was one of only 60 women out of 650. This doubled following Labour’s victory in 1997 and has crept up to 191 today – 10 times more than in Barbara Castle’s heyday.
The early progress was driven by the Labour party. But the Tories have started to up their game, returning 68 female MPs at the last general election. There is a long way to go – particularly in the Tory party – but we are seeing progress.
This has undoubtedly had an impact on the way politics is conducted, both in the Commons and elsewhere. While sexism is alive and well – take David Cameron’s instruction to me to “calm down dear” during prime minister’s questions in the last parliament, one of his least edifying moments. But some of the more blatant misogyny, the obscene gestures and insults that faced female MPs in previous years, have gone.
However, there is a paradox. Looking at the coverage of the current referendum campaign, you would be forgiven for thinking that little had changed. It is overwhelmingly dominated by men. Cameron and George Osborne on one side; Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage on the other. It is coming across more like an Eton playground spat than a serious debate about the future of our country.
This week, Harriet Harman, Seema Malhotra, Kate Green and I held a press conference in an attempt to redress the balance – to highlight the missing voices of women and the importance of the vote on EU membership for women at work. Needless to say, much of the coverage focused on a question about a comment Harman made about Kim Kardashian. That says it all, really. Women are not taken seriously.
Even the language of election campaigns can be unmistakably masculine. The talk is all of civil war; of the big guns being rolled out; of the big beasts battling away. The problem is, all these beasts are blokes.
The unwritten assumptions about what constitutes “strong leadership” are male too. A study by Loughborough University released this week found that just one in six politicians appearing on television to discuss the Europe question were women. In the press, it was one in 10. Of the top 10 politicians covered, all were male.
This is all sadly familiar. In a quarter of a century in politics, I’ve seen it time, and time and time again. Even when women are in the top team, they rarely find themselves at the forefront of election campaigns. Even those inside the top team can end up feeling like outsiders – marginalised, disregarded and invisible.
Whatever progress women make, the pattern seems set. Whenever an election is called it’s like a trapdoor opens up beneath the chairs of every female politician and we simply disappear from the scene. As soon as the campaign kicks off, our politics regresses to a bygone, men-only era.
The petition was started on Monday by 27-year-old Nicola Thorp, who recently spoke out about the "sexism" she said she faced in December, when she was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels, the BBC reported.
Related articles from ABC News (USA).
The view in Australia is that anti sex-discrimination legislation would protect an employee from unreasonable and selective requirements for work clothing:
"An employer can set a standard of dress in the workplace as part of a reasonable and lawful direction; for instance, requiring someone to wear high-quality business attire," Herbert Smith Freehills employment partner Tony Wood said. "But a problem arises if an employer identifies a gender-specific requirement ... so, in this situation, directing females to wear high heels would seem to be offensive to most of Australia's anti-discrimination legislation."
And it may not only be women who could claim gender discrimination over employer-dictated clothing standards. In a previous case in the United Kingdom, a male employee won the right not to have to wear a tie to work after arguing at an industrial tribunal that it amounted to discrimination. His claim was upheld because it was determined that women in his workplace were not subjected to the same rigorous dress rules.
Australia's Human Rights Commission advises employers that rules regarding workplace attire could be discriminatory if they single out certain employees for different treatment because of their background, personal characteristics or gender.
In an online article A woman’s place? The British House of Commons CHÉ RAMSDEN on 29 March 2016 speaks of everyday sexism experienced in the UK parliament and the extraordinarily unrepresentative nature of its membership.
On representation - more male MPs in the current Parliament than female MPs ever elected in the entire history of parliament:
There are currently more male MPs in office (459 – of whom 436 are white) than the number of women MPs in UK history (450). A 100:0 ratio of men to women in the House of Commons was accepted for most of the institution's history; today, the ratio is 71:29. Yet aiming for the opposite - a 29:71 or 0:100 men to women ratio - seems inconceivable. Only under patriarchy will we pay lip service to ‘equality’ while seeking to cap women’s representation at 50%.
Gender redress - where parliament would be predominantly female seems unlikely in current circumstances.
50:50 is more achievable and a better fit with representative democracy now.
Historical redress to match the history of gender representation in the House of Representatives in Australia we guess (we have not done the sums) would require more than half a century of all-female representation.
On everyday sexism - bullying, mockery and unprofessional behaviour accepted as 'banter':
Despite women having voting parity with men since 1928 when over-21s were enfranchised, women’s experiences in the House of Commons show that this is not a space designed for or inclusive of women. The report for the Administration Committee on women’s experiences in Parliament, published in August 2015, highlights that women MPs and MPs from minority backgrounds are made to feel unwelcome by a ‘public-school boy ethos’. This is a culture which accepts bullying, mockery and other unprofessional behaviour as ‘banter’.
Perhaps standards of parliamentary behaviour should also be similarly reviewed in Australia?
On whether woman politicians in a male system necessarily ‘do good for women’ - in a male dominated system not every woman is a champion of women's interests:
That is not to say that simply being a woman in Parliament means you will do better for women, inside or outside Parliament – Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister is a case in point. But equally it is hard to imagine a party dominated by women proposing such a ludicrous policy as domestic violence support services having to bid for funding from the spoils of a tax which considers sanitary products ‘luxury items’. We have also seen how governments like Sweden’s, which are willing to identify as feminist, approach all policy formulation – not just ‘women’s issues’ – with a different framework.
The problem of women not necessarily being 'good for women' is documented in Australia by Anne Summers in her book The end of equality 2003. That is why a system of dual male and female electoral representation may allow more women into parliament who are not bound to moribund male-dominated party agendas.
On how to get elected - focusing on party systems for candidate selection:
At the ‘How to get elected’ panel, Women’s Equality Party representative Hannah Peaker described how, as a new party, they were able to review the entire system of candidate selection from scratch. Their findings are lessons in inclusivity: that application forms were long and unwieldy, and required too much irrelevant personal history; that candidates need childcare while they are campaigning; and that if you want a pool of diverse, representative candidates then you need a diverse membership.
These are not radical solutions, but it is surprising that political institutions, including parties, have not yet adopted them.
If not even the least radical solutions can be accepted by the parties in the current system - why not change the system?