International Women's Day 2022 - One Step Forward… or Two Back?
By Rachel Dineley
Tuesday 8 March marks International Women's Day. It presents an opportunity to reflect on equality in society. Women experience systematic inequalities in many aspects of life, for example, conflict, the workplace and in healthcare.
We are all acutely aware that the women of Ukraine are suffering terribly, as many are forced to flee as refugees with vulnerable children and elderly relatives, leaving behind their menfolk and many other women to defend Ukranian democracy against the terrorising tyranny of Putin and his military forces. One is struck by how, when faced with a truly appalling situation, we come together with our European neighbours, in solidarity and support for the victims of Putin's evil dictatorship. I cannot help but wonder if the world would be a much better place, if power was much more equally shared between men and women. It is well established that women as a whole prefer to work and lead through consensus rather than conflict. When does taking a collaborative approach result in women being held back?
How are the UK's women faring? The FTSE Women Leaders Review, published on 22 February, has found that 414 women held company board roles at FTSE 100 firms last year, up from 374 in 2020. However, on examination, only 13.5% of executive director positions were held by women in 2021, that's just 29 roles, down from 14.2% in 2021. The remaining 385 were non-executive roles.
So, despite the headline figure, the suggestion of progress is illusory. Undoubtedly many working women faced new challenges during the pandemic and often had to bear a disproportionate additional burden, for example in also managing home schooling. The pandemic highlighted and often exacerbated the relative inequalities of working women in comparison with their male counterparts.
But it was not all bad news. The majority of the working population were required to work from home wherever possible and, at last, employers previously reluctant to grant requests (predominantly from women) to work flexibly and from home found that they could trust their employees to do so effectively. Many employers are now recognising the benefits of a truly flexible working policy.
The inequalities are still there, not only in the workforce but across our communities, in many facets of life. On 22 February we also saw the Crown Prosecution Service publish its progress update on its five-year blueprint to reverse falling rape prosecution. The Director of Public Prosecutions recognised the need to transform the way rape prosecutions are handled as key to helping more victims see justice.
Health inequalities are another area of concern. This International Women's Day, Sarah Green, our Liberal Democrat MP for Chesham and Amersham, is calling for financial redress for the thousands of British women suffering ill health as a result of the use of surgical mesh. Sarah is laying a Bill requiring the government to report on the merits of establishing a redress scheme.
In 2020 the government-commissioned the Baroness Cumberlege report First do No Harm, which examined the impact of such devices. One of the report's key recommendations was the establishment of an independent agency to provide victims with redress. However, the government has consistently refused to consider the creation of such an agency.
Commenting on her Bill, Sarah says:
"This is yet another health issue that disproportionately impacts the female population. A central finding of the Cumberlege report was the failure of our healthcare system to listen to the voices of women. We have heard this repeated time and again, on issues ranging from the menopause to mental health.
"Victims of surgical mesh have suffered immeasurably. They have been calling for compensation for the physical, emotional and financial pain they have gone through following procedures they were reassured were safe. Yet again, their voices are being ignored.
"This International Women's Day I urge the government to listen to women, support my Bill, and look seriously at providing redress for mesh victims."
The time for tackling these many inequalities is now. It needs strong leadership and matching resources. Actions speak louder than words. Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, is also the Foreign Secretary. One would expect both roles to be full time jobs. Surely equality deserves the attention of a dedicated Minister?" Might she not relinquish her ministerial role? Only a dedicated and effective minister who actually grapples with the fundamental societal issues that perpetuate these inequalities will help bring about significant and much needed change. Thus far those within the Cabinet, who should be leading the way, have utterly failed to deliver in practice.
Diversity Officer, Chesham & Amersham Liberal Democrats
Below: Liberal Democrat women MPs (left to right): Layla Moran, Daisy Cooper, Sarah Olney, Sarah Green, Wendy Chamberlain, Helen Morgan,
Munira Wilson, Wera Hobhouse, Christine Jardine.