Equality for women and men will not become a reality until we change the rules that govern society, Julie Mellor, Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), said today. She identified the gap between most people’s belief in the importance of equal opportunities and the reality of their daily lives as a major obstacle to achieving equality.
Ms Mellor was launching new research commissioned by the EOC from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) and NOP to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act, and unveiling a new EOC advertising campaign. The research revealed that although progress has been made since 1975, there are still very real obstacles to equality for women and men. Belief in equal opportunities is not put into practice, either at work or at home.
Ms Mellor said:
“Things have undoubtedly moved on since 1975. This research illustrates that women have broken through into areas of work and public life from which they were almost completely excluded in the past. But it also highlights deep-rooted attitudes that are still preventing us from achieving real equality for women and men.
“It’s time to change the rules. This doesn’t just mean changes in the law, but also, and most importantly, changes in attitude, values and working practices. We have drawn up a ten-point plan with proposals for action by individuals, employers and the Government. Everyone needs to engage with the task of transforming their ways of thinking if we are ever to achieve equality.”
Baroness Barbara Castle said:
“We have come a long way since 1975, but there are still many barriers to overcome. One of the main barriers is women’s assessment of themselves. Too many women still lack self-esteem. Women’s progress is as much dependent on their growing self-confidence as on any changes in the law.
“My own first launching into political life was due to the women members of my local party insisting on having a woman on the shortlist for the selection of their new candidate. They won because they threatened to down tools over the humbler jobs which they had always done. Again it was the threatened revolt of women MPs in the House of Commons in 1969, which enabled me to persuade the Cabinet in 1969 that the demand for equal pay had become irresistible. Greater equality in the future will also depend on women’s absolute belief in their right to it.”
Referring to the findings of the NOP focus groups Ms Mellor said:
“British citizens want equality and recognise that old assumptions about women’s and men’s roles are outdated, but they often don’t translate those beliefs into practice. Parents who express strong support for equality still tend to treat their sons and daughters differently. Young people who say boys and girls should be able to choose from a wide range of jobs still often follow traditionally ‘male’ or ‘female’ career paths.
“This explains why most women are still trapped in a lifecycle of inequality; working in low paid, low status jobs and struggling to combine their work and their family responsibilities – caring for children and older relatives. British fathers work the longest hours in Europe and many are prevented from spending time with their children. We must not think we’ve made it just because a few women have reached the top of their field and a few employers now offer their workers paternity leave. The reality of most people’s everyday lives is still determined by their sex.
“The new EOC ad challenges the idea that having children needs to be problem at work. Most people carry out a daily balancing act between home and work. We want employers to help not hinder staff in their desire to be good parents as well as good employees. Until now women have largely been accommodated at the fringes of the traditionally male world of work and have had to adapt to those working patterns. It’s time to change the rules: employers should reward results not long hours.
“We must support the optimism about the future expressed by the young people in these focus groups and ensure their eyes remain open to the vast range of choices they really do have. Sex equality cannot be achieved until it is the norm for women and men to be active across the whole range of caring and paid work responsibilities.”