By Valentina Magri
International Women’s Day – observed by the UN General Assembly since 1977 after it invited member nations to unite in eliminating the discrimination against women – was celebrated this weekend with great success, but some still question the need for such a day in contemporary British society.
Gender gap in Britain
The gender gap is measured at an international level by the World Economic Forum (Wef), which carries out a measure called the Gender Gap Index. Its value varies from 0 to 1, the former indicating gender equality and the latter gender inequality.
According to the “Global Gender Gap Report 2013” by the Wef, Britain is ranked 18th out of 134 countries around the world. Considering only Europe, it is ranked 12th. The good news: UK has remained stable in 18th place for the past two years. The bad news: Britain’s ranking has been declining since 2006, when it was ranked ninth in the world.
The roots of the gender gap
Looking at the subindexes of the overall rank in gender gap, we notice that in 2013, the UK is ranked 35th in women’s educational attainment, 92nd in their health and survival, 35th in economic participation and opportunity and 29th in political empowerment.
Looking at the performance in the period 2006-2012, the overall index has slightly improved from 0.736 to 0.744. That improvement is due to an increasing economic participation of women and to a stability of the educational attainment and health and survival results.
However, there is still one dimension in which women are experiencing a greater gap: politics. Indeed, the political empowerment of English women has been declining since 2006: from 0.307 to 0.275. Cameron has already been lambasted for the lack of women on his front bench for PMQs, and in most other aspects of the party for that matter, bestowing positions to fellow Etonian chums instead.
Women and politics in the UK
The political empowerment subindex measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision making through the ratio of women to men in minister-level positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. The subindex also takes also into account the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (PM or president) for the last 50 years.
In Britain, there are currently 23 women out of 101 members of the Parliament and 17 women out of 100 ministers. In the last 50 years, 12 women out of 38 people have lead Britain. To sum up, the female-to-male ratio has been varied from 0.21 (in the case of the female parliamentary members) to 0.30 (in the case of head of State).
According to Fawcett, an English leading campaigning for women’s equality and rights, “at the current rate of change, a child born today will be drawing her pension before she sees equal numbers of men and women in the House of Commons”.
Like the boardrooms of our blue-chip companies, a lack of female decision makers in politics is blighting our society. Until that changes, Britain will continue to regress after many years of progress on women’s rights. Some may doubt the relevance of International Women’s Day, but I ascertain that it is more relevant now than ever.