Leading article: The illusion of equality

Share
Related Topics

Yet it is all too easy, especially perhaps for metropolitan, middle-class males, to assume that the equal rights revolution has been won. Far from it. While legislation and social attitudes have progressed hand in hand, each prompting the other forwards, economic realities have lagged stubbornly far behind. The evidence assembled by the Prosser Commission on Women and Work, whose report will be published tomorrow, shows how slowly the pay gap between men and women is being closed.

Of course, there will always be a gap in a free-market economy between the average pay of men and women as long as women take career breaks to have children and men do not. But what is striking is that so many women continue to be paid less for doing the same work as men, 31 years after it became unlawful. More obvious, because it is more visible, is the continuing underrepresentation of women at the highest professional levels.

These are, as Baroness Prosser's commission acknowledges, complicated issues. We have moved beyond quick political fixes - although it would do no harm if Tony Blair did fix a broken political symbol in his imminent reshuffle. Meg Munn, the MP for Sheffield Heeley, has been serving - unpaid - as minister for Women for 10 months since the last reshuffle, when the post was forgotten until all the paid jobs had been filled.

The Prosser Commission is likely to be criticised for failing to advocate compulsory equal-pay audits of companies in the private sector. But this might prove too heavily bureaucratic an instrument. The commission was right to focus its attention instead on ways of breaking down the segregation of men and women into different occupations, which has allowed unequal pay to persist in the absence of direct comparison between the sexes.

This requires imaginative thinking about how to shift cultural assumptions about men and women's work which mean that girls are destined for low-paid work from an early age. Inevitably, talk of persuading girls to be plumbers and boys to be nurses prompts the cry of "political correctness" from the forces of reaction. It is the same cry that goes up whenever barriers to equal treatment - on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation or race - are lifted. The Government deserves credit for setting up the inquiry into women's pay - its findings ought to dispel the notion that the battle for equal rights is anywhere near won.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect