Briefing: International Womens Day 2010

March 8 is International Womens Day

The Commission prepared a Parliamentary Briefing for peers and MPs in preparation for debates in the Lords and Commons on 4 March and 11 March respectively, in honour of International Women's Day 2010.

Download the briefing in full: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities, Progress for all (Word)

Read on for extracts from the briefing about the Commission's work to tackle gender inequality and promote equality for women.

The Gender Pay Gap

Forty years since the Equal Pay Act, women are still on average paid 20.2 per cent less per hour than men (combining full-time and part-time earnings). The gap remains wider in the private sector at 25.6 per cent than in the public sector which sits at 18.8 per cent. This means many women face an unfair and lifelong disadvantage.

A pay difference can have many causes, only one of which may be pay discrimination.  But it is nonetheless possible to infer that on average a woman working full-time from age 18 to 59 could stand to miss out on £361,000 in gross earnings over the course of her working life, as compared to an equivalent male. Differences on this scale contribute to women’s poverty in work and in retirement, and also impact on their partners and their children.

Pay transparency

A contributing factor for this gross discrepancy is a lack of transparency in the workplace.  Find out more about our work to encourage transparency by gender pay reporting.  

The Equality Bill contains provisions in its Clause 78 for the voluntary reporting of gender pay gaps in organisations with over 250 staff.  Find out more from our Briefing on Improving Pay Transparency.  

Financial Sector Inquiry

In 2009, the Commission began a timely inquiry into sex discrimination in the finance sector.  This ongoing inquiry has found that women in some of the UK’s leading finance companies receive around 80 per cent less in performance related pay than male colleagues. This disparity is a major factor behind the massive gender pay gap in the finance sector, with far fewer women in senior roles than in other sectors. The Inquiry examines the underlying causes as well as reports of a high level of sexual harassment in the sector.  Find out more about the Inquiry and read the Inquiry report.

Working Better

There have been huge changes in women’s participation in employment over the last 30 years; however men’s contribution to childcare has not increased at the same rate. In most cases, women continue to shoulder the responsibility for childcare, even in households where both parents work full-time.

The Commissions flagship Working Better project is about setting a new agenda to meet the changing needs of families, workers and employers in the 21st century. The project was launched in 2008 and examines the limitations of current legislation, work organisation and culture.

Maternity and Paternity Leave

Maternity provisions shaped around the traditional role of women as the main carers for children and dependents no longer reflect the reality of lives in the 21st century. The importance of fathers in parenting and caring and the aspirations of women for equal careers with men demand new policy that supports sharing of caring and equal career opportunities throughout the lifecycle. Working Better has explored different approaches to supporting working parents, that will remove the caring penalty currently attached to women. Read our response to the Government's consultation 'Choice for families: additional paternity leave and pay' or find out more from our Working Better research.

Violence against Women

Each year, 3 million women in Britain experience rape, domestic violence, stalking or other violence.  The Map of Gaps project, undertaken in partnership with the End Violence Against Women coalition has mapped the availability of services for women who have experienced violence. It has found that one in four local authority areas provide no specialised support services in their area for women who experience violence and that a woman's access to crucial support is vastly influenced by where she lives. A follow up report in May 2009 revealed that the situation remains worrying - for more information, see the Key Findings from Map of Gaps 2.

See also: Our campaign in Wales - Asking for it?  and call for better public services, Breaking the Silence on Violence against Women.

Pathways into politics: Diversity in political representation

The House of Commons features the greatest gender imbalance of all the elected political institutions in the UK with only 20 per cent of MPs being female. The Welsh Assembly is the most balanced, 47 per cent of Assembly Members are female.

Political parties have a central role to play in the promotion of diversity in public life.   However, there is currently no duty on the political parties to ensure they take action in this area because the public sector equality duties do not extend to them.  This is why the Commission is supporting the Government’s amendment to the Equality Bill which will increase the reporting by parties on the diversity of its candidates. 

UN treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in its article 7, also place obligations on Governments to ensure equal access to political participation. 

See also: Political Portraits - children's idea of a typical politician

Gender Stereotypes in education

Research conducted as part of the Commissions ‘Staying On’  report released in 2009, showed that race, gender and disability still contribute significant hurdles to securing good jobs and having fulfilling lives. In addition, a child realising their potential is determined to a much greater extent by their social class, than by ability and effort.

However, gender still appears to be a more important differential than social class in accounting for differences in career aspirations.  Find out more from our Staying On project.

New UN Gender Agency

Following a General Assembly resolution of September 2009, UN member states are negotiating the set up of a new UN gender agency re-organising and revitalising current UN efforts in the area of gender equality. The Commission welcomes the UK Government’s commitment to the new agency and is keen for the agency to have power and profile within the UN system.  Find out more about our work to support the work of UN human rights bodies in relation to gender equality.


Download this briefing in full: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities, Progress for all (Word)

For more information about our work to tackle gender inequality and promote equality for women, follow the links on the Gender equality index page  

Last Updated: 05 Mar 2010