Education, Equality, and Human Rights

By Mike Cole | Go to book overview

1

Gender and Equality

One hand tied behind us

Jane Kelly


Introduction: Women’s liberation or post-feminism?

Although some women claim that we are in a post-feminist era, we have only to look at the demands of the first Women’s Liberation Conference, held at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1970, to recognize that we are still far from having achieved equality. The 1970 conference demanded equal pay, twenty-four-hour childcare, 1 free contraception and abortion on demand. Later, other demands were added—the right to determine one’s own sexuality; the rights of black women, including the right to determine their own demands autonomously; reproductive rights; and the right to education.

If we look at just the first three, none of these has been achieved. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1973, women still only earn 72.7 per cent of the male wage, and 4 million women earn less than £4 an hour. 2 Provision for pre-school childcare is the lowest in Europe, despite the fact that the proportion of women working is among the highest in Europe, and cuts in local government over the last eighteen years have led to nursery and crèche closures and increased fees; the few high-profile and expensive workplace nurseries have done little to fill the gap. In 1998, of the top five hundred companies, only 5 per cent contributed towards the childcare costs of their employees. The New Labour government’s policy of a nursery place for every four-year-old is scarcely an adequate response to the needs of mothers for pre—school childcare, whether raising children on their own or not.

As for free contraception and abortion on demand, while contraception is now available, there are threats to charge a fee for the contraceptive pill. Abortion rights continue to be under threat, either directly or through cuts in the NHS, while reproductive rights for ordinary women seeking fertility treatment are continually curtailed, also as a result of cuts in funding, and are anyhow non-existent for single and lesbian women, as a result of the Human Embryology and Fertilization Act, passed in 1990, unless you are rich enough to pay for private treatment.


Postmodern Feminism

The current fashion for postmodern theory is quite incapable of explaining why, twenty-five years after the founding of the modern Women’s Liberation Movement

-6-

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