The problems still facing women in the UK today

The Women's March in London
The Women’s March in London [Photo: Dan Kitwood]

It would be a wonderful thing to wake up one morning, switch on the news and find out that the fight for gender equality had been won.

And while on certain days in the past – perhaps when women were finally allowed to vote at the same age as men in 1928, or when the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1975 – it might have even felt possible that day would someday come here in the UK, progress doesn’t happen overnight.

It happens in baby steps and, often, as we take one step forward, we then take two steps back.

Woman on laptop
These affect women from all walks of life [Photo: Pexels]

No one knows this better than those in the US, for example, as President Donald Trump has recently reintroduced old restrictions on abortion funding.

Similarly over here in the UK, as many fantastic women fight to influence policy, raise awareness and support vulnerable women all over the country, other kinds of change – whether that be austerity, internet culture or a lack of understanding – seem to be doing their best to hold us back.

Which is why it’s important to remind ourselves of the issues still facing women in the country today.

Domestic violence

Protesters campaigning for more support for victims of domestic violence
Protesters campaigning for more support for victims of domestic violence [Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images]

Every woman has been told to stay safe heading home at night or while socialising with strangers before, yet we’re also in real danger in our own homes.

According to the Office of National Statistics in 2016, 27.1% of women in England and Wales have experienced domestic abuse – a partner, ex-partner or family member physically or emotionally abusing, stalking or sexually assaulting them – since they were 16.

And among women killed, 44% of them were done so by partners or ex-partners in comparison to just 6% of men.


[Photo: Pexels]

Despite the dangers faced by women, since austerity hit in 2010, services that help women suffering from domestic abuse have seen their budgets cut and have even been forced to turn those seeking help away.

In fact, the cuts since 2010 have disproportionately affected women more than men as a whole – according to analysis by independent thinktank the Women’s Budget Group, benefit and tax changes since 2010 will have hit women’s incomes twice as hard as men by 2020.

That’s particularly because we earn less – so rely on benefits – and are more likely to rely on child care and social care, let alone on the services like domestic refuge as above.

Maternity rights and motherhood

Pregnant woman
Many mothers face different kinds of discrimination at work [Photo: Pexels]

It’s hardly surprising we need financial help considering how many pregnant women or those on maternity leave face discrimination.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed (when others at work weren’t) or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.

And that’s if you manage to get a job in the first place – a survey ran by law firm Slater & Gordon a few years ago revealed that a third of managers would rather employ a man in his 20s or 30s than a woman of the same age to avoid issues surrounding maternity leave.

And even after you’ve had the baby, it only takes a glance at the news to see how often women are harassed and criticised for breastfeeding in public.

Biologically, we’re the only ones who can bring more children into the world and keep the human race going – yet we’re still being punished for it.

Harassment and rape

Women looking unhappy
85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year [Photo: Pexels]

As well as abuse from those close to us, a huge proportion of women have to deal with harassment and assault every year from a variety of people – 64% of us in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in public places, while 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year.

Yet only 1,070 are convicted. Partially because it’s hard to prove (it often involves no witnesses), but also thanks to commonly-held (and totally backward) beliefs about rape – with jurors as no exception.

Women are often blamed for assaults forced upon them; one in eleven people still believe a victim is ‘completely’ or ‘mostly’ responsible for a sexual assault or rape by someone they’d been flirting heavily with beforehand (9%), taking drugs (8%) or while drunk (6%).

And the way that being cross-questioned in court currently happens – or in the case of the Ched Evans case last year, having your sexual history trawled through – is a process many rape victims consider too distressing to be worth it.

Online abuse

Woman on computer
It’s tough being a woman online too [Photo: Pexels]

Women aren’t only unsafe in public and in their own homes, but we can’t even hide in the depths of the internet either.

As usually happens with nice things, once the wrong people get a hold of them, they lose their shine – and in the case of the World Wide Web, a place of free speech and anonymity soon became a shooting range in which to attack women purely for being women, from unwanted sexual messages to death threats.

If you’re a woman who uses social media, you probably don’t need a statistic – the proof is right there in your inbox or Instagram comments.

Either that, or in attacks directed at high-profile women such as Emma Watson and at activist Caroline Criado-Perez. The list goes on.

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

National Ambassador to Ethiopia Hannah Godefa delivers speech at Girl Summit in London 2014
National Ambassador to Ethiopia Hannah Godefa delivers a speech at Girl Summit 2014 in London [Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty]

For many of us in the UK, it’s only in the past few years that the prevalence of FGM here has become common knowledge.

Often involving removing, cutting and injuring the female genitals at an early age, it can result in constant pain, infections and psychological problems for the women it’s done to – yet a case of it is still discovered or treated in a medical appointment in England every hour.

It’s often performed against a girl’s consent and by someone without medical training – and though it’s illegal in the UK, is still performed for cultural and social reasons in certain communities.

The pay gap

Woman at interview
Women are paid less than men for a variety of reasons [Photo: Pexels]

While saying ‘women earn this for every pound a man earns’ is way-too-simple way to explain a complicated problem, it’s true that women are still paid less than men in the UK today.

Firstly, this depends on your age. If you’re in your early 20s and in full time work, for example – when the pay gap is actually negative – everything might seem fine and dandy.

That is, until you approach your late 20s or you have had your first child, when the gap begins to widen.

It also depends on what type of work you do. Largely, what’s deemed to be ‘women’s work’ – such as caring for children and the elderly – are often lower paid with fewer progression opportunities. While male-dominated workplaces, such as STEM, are better paid – but tougher to get into for women who will be one of few in the field or fear sexism and sexual harassment.

So it’s not surprising that women are occupying fewer higher-earning jobs, and are a distinct minority among the UK’s highest earners.

What next?

Women's march London
Hope is not lost [Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty]

It’s hardly cheering, but this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems women face in the UK today.

But while fighting for equality will involve taking some steps back as well as forward, the most important thing is not to be deterred in working towards progress, whether that’s debunking myths about FGM or rape in your community, lobbying to prevent the closure of domestic abuse services or reading up on your maternity rights in the workplace.

There’s a lot to be done, so we’d better get to it.

Introducing your 2017 feminist role models

12 famous women who’ve challenged sexism on the red carpet