Is gender equality going backwards?

Are people more afraid to talk about gender equality and, if so, how can we create spaces where they can?

Gender equality - Weight scale with gender signs showing equality - 2021 UK Board Index


Budget Day is finally here and we wait to see what the Chancellor will come up with. There are so many families struggling, not just with childcare, but with caring generally, rising costs, fears about the energy cap being lifted and worries about overstretched and mainly female-dominated public services, with a two-day strike by teachers in England starting today. A report out last week by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London found gender equality had, in some cases, gone backwards over the last year.

The survey finds the number of people who say they are scared to speak out and advocate for the equal rights of women because of what might happen to them has doubled since 2017, rising from 14% to 29%, with younger people much more likely to fear doing this. It also finds that 38% now agree that when it comes to giving women equal rights with men, things have gone far enough – up from 25% in 2018. Moreover, 38% feel that men are being expected to do too much to support equality, an increase on the 29% who felt this way in 2019. And two in five (43%) people say we have gone so far in promoting women’s equality that we are discriminating against men. Interestingly Gen Z and Millennials are significantly more likely than Baby Boomers and Gen X to think we have gone so far in promoting women’s equality that we are discriminating against men.

Why is this? There could be multiple factors at play, but the kind of things that pass for debate online these days and the lurch to extremist views must be factors. I asked my daughter what she thought, given she is a Gen Z person. She has expressed fears of getting in any way involved in the gender debate that is raging all the time on social media – and at university. She mentioned too that some of the comments about men on social media that she has seen have been fairly extreme and she knows all about the incels out there who hate women. Everything in their world seems incredibly polarised. It makes sense that they feel afraid. There is a war going on out there. I recall one of my daughter’s friends telling me you have to take a side. There is no middle ground. And yet the middle ground is where debate and some form of mutual understanding happens.

Also, older people have, by dint of being old, lived a bit more. They’ve experienced the many levels on which gender-based discrimination works and how so many of the systems we live and work within devalue women. Older women face the cumulative effect of all of this – they’re often doing all the caring – for older and younger people, sidelined at work and made to feel ugly and invisible in a world that is more obsessed than ever with how we look and which parades plastic surgery as an empowerment tool.

I went to the TUC women’s conference last week. It was genuinely empowering. Woman after woman got up to put forward motions to support women as carers, as mothers, as workers…They spoke about violence against women, disability, the menopause, low pay and the cost of living crisis, insecure jobs and the gender pension gap. Many detailed their own or other women’s individual experiences and every new speaker was applauded.

Women are under huge pressure at the moment – they’ve come through the pandemic and into the current crisis and are expected to keep everything and everyone going. I’ve spoken to women in the pandemic who were on the point of a breakdown, trying to manage work and young children. I’ve spoken to parents who were worried about their daughters’ wellbeing. And now here we are in a cost of living crisis with many people, particularly single parents – the vast majority mums – visiting food banks.

And yet the survey suggests increasing numbers think things have gone too far in favour of women. It seems extraordinary and it shows how effective bullying from all sides – and the power of marketing over real action, particularly for the lowest paid – can be. We need to find spaces where people can talk honestly and constructively about the structural and practical issues that are holding women – and others – back, calmly presenting the facts rather than shouting at each other.  That doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other, but it does mean we have to live with each other.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your Franchise Selection

Click the button below to register your interest with all the franchises in your selection

Request FREE Information Now

Your Franchise Selection

This franchise opportunity has been added to your franchise selection



Click the button below to register your interest with all the franchises in your selection

Request FREE Information Now

You may be interested in these similar franchises