Editor-At-Large: More money for Mauresmo is not a giant leap for womankind...

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The Independent Online

I suppose I should be celebrating the long-awaited news that Wimbledon has finally decided to pay women tennis players the same prize money as men. This is great for the likes of Amélie Mauresmo, but I can't see that it represents a huge step forward for womankind, when figures published last week show that the pay gap between men and women increased last year.

Men now earn 17.2 per cent more than women, and for part-time workers, the majority of whom are female, the difference is even more shocking - men pocket around 40 per cent more. Compare this to an average pay difference of 15 per cent throughout Europe. In London, where people tend to earn more than the rest of the country, the latest figures show that female workers take home about 32 per cent less than the opposite sex. The pay gap may have reduced by 12 per cent since 1975, but progress really seems to have hit the buffers.

All this, in spite of EU legislation on equal pay, the Equal Pay Act and the Gender Equality Duty due to come into force in April, which requires all public employers to reduce the pay gap between men and women. You can legislate all you like, but you can't change deeply entrenched attitudes. Take a look at the directors of the FTSE 100 companies - overwhelmingly male, with the tiniest handful of women in control of any of Britain's flagship businesses. The message from the boardroom to the factory floor still resounds loud and clear - it's a man's world, run by men, for men to clamber up the ladder, and woe betide anyone with a womb who might breed and then seek to resume her career. All too often maternity leave leads to redundancy and a move sideways when the woman in question has the gall to expect her old job back.

As for flexible working, don't make me laugh. That is the single reason why the majority of new businesses in Britain are started by women - they are prepared to work every hour God sends in order to establish a new way of doing things, even taking a huge financial risk, taking on massive borrowings, embarking on a course which will take them away from their families. There is a very high price to pay emotionally and physically too.

Until the world of work has women in the correct proportions at the top, don't expect much change. And I don't mean women running soft options such as human resources, publicity or catering. I mean women running cutting-edge aspects of business like research and development, and finance. I don't mean high-profile women sitting as non-executive directors of companies like Marks and Sparks - that's no help to most women on the assembly line or cleaning offices part-time for the minimum wage.

It would be beneficial for the female workforce if Parliament and the Cabinet reflected a more accurate proportion of men and women. Every time I see a picture of Gordon Brown he is surrounded by grim men in suits - so the future, whether it includes Hazel Blears as his deputy or not, doesn't seem female-friendly.

At the same time as it's clear the Government has failed to ensure that women earn what they are owed by law, the Royal Economic Society has published a study of 12,000 people showing that women work far harder at their relationships than men, combining a job with running the family and doing housework. When single, men spend seven hours a week on housework and women 10. As a couple, the difference is even greater - with women doing 15 hours a week, and men just five. When men get a raise, their partners receive on average just over 10 per cent of it. In all, researchers calculated that women in relationships received just 40 per cent of the benefits flowing into the household. No surprise there, and surely this goes some way to explaining why fewer people are marrying - a fall of 10 per cent in England and Wales in 2005.

Sometimes I do wonder what men are for, apart from the obvious. Politicians have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks wringing their hands about the breakdown of the family, with the resultant rise in youth crime and baby boys with guns. But surely the fact that women are still regarded as second-division wage slaves and a disposable part of the labour market is more of a cause for concern.

Instead of worrying about poor parenting, why not start empowering women financially? The women whose kids are said to be out of control are those who have no choice about work - they have to. Considering the wage gap and the hours they put in keeping the home functioning, I think most of them do a pretty amazing job.

...and Come Dancing (USA) is surely a step too far for Heather

I fell about laughing when I read that Heather Mills McCartney is to take part in the American version of Strictly Come Dancing, called Dancing with the Stars. Is this the same Heather who finds the media "intrusive", who wants to be taken seriously as an anti-fur campaigner and animal rights activist? The show, which featured Jerry Springer as a contestant, is hugely successful in America, and she'll be strutting her stuff alongside the country and western singer Billy Ray Cyrus, Muhammad Ali's boxing daughter Laila, and a former Miss USA. Of course, Heather Mills McCartney is a multi-faceted human being, and once she's managed to struggle away from the courtroom with a settlement said to be in the region of £25m from Sir Paul McCartney, she will be looking to re-establish her career. I had heard that she was planning to launch a range of vegetarian food - but that was last month. In her quest to be taken seriously, she's right up there with Sarah Ferguson, who was photographed in a glossy magazine brandishing what looked like a riding crop and wearing hooker shoes. Go for it girls!

Film night: What hope for the man behind Mirren's throne?

In all the fuss about Helen Mirren's amazing performance in 'The Queen', let's not forget her director, one of the very best in the business. Stephen Frears is up for an Academy Award tonight - but has no chance against Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese. Frears is a genius: intelligent, self-effacing, huge fun, and firmly left-wing. Most importantly, he draws the very best work from his actors, and is responsible for Mirren's tour de force as HRH.

Red face day: Comic Relief should blush at its lack of charity

Jade Goody was a loudmouth bigot, but surely she has eaten enough humble pie. Comic Relief doesn't think so - it has dropped a recorded sketch with Jade from its fundraising extravaganza on 16 March. This seems petty - especially as the poor girl would more or less do anythingto rehabilitate herself. Perhaps the goody two-shoes at Comic Relief will be happy only when she's dead.

For cod's sake: Captain Coren needs to act in better taste

How can a foodie and restaurant critic have the gall to appear in a television ad for fish fingers? Step forward Giles Coren, the new Captain Birdseye, promoting fast food made with cod, an endangered species. Coren claims that by 2010 they will no longer be made with cod. But for now he's taking the cash - unless he's giving it to threatened fishing communities.

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