SPECIAL REPORT: THE NEW SEX WAR: Women like You, Women like Me ; It Is 30 Years since the Sex Discrimination Act. Then, Women Routinely Earned Less Than Men and Were Shut out of Sports Clubs. We've Come a Long Way, but Is It Far Enough? Yvonne Roberts Reports. Interviews by Danielle Demetriou

By Demetriou, Danielle | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), November 6, 2005 | Go to article overview
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SPECIAL REPORT: THE NEW SEX WAR: Women like You, Women like Me ; It Is 30 Years since the Sex Discrimination Act. Then, Women Routinely Earned Less Than Men and Were Shut out of Sports Clubs. We've Come a Long Way, but Is It Far Enough? Yvonne Roberts Reports. Interviews by Danielle Demetriou


Demetriou, Danielle, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


Step back 30 years. Employers refuse to hire mothers because children make them 'unreliable'; a woman has difficulty acquiring a mortgage without a husband; men-only clubs bar entry to females; publicans won't serve pints to 'ladies'; women earn a fraction of the male wage; sexism is rife.

A debate between Labour minister Barbara Castle and rising Conservative star Margaret Thatcher run in the Daily Mirror reads 'Honey blonde takes on red head...' Discrimination is blatant but also more subtle.

Women conductors are plentiful on London buses, but not a single inspector is female. Why not? Because inspectors have to be 5ft 8in, and most women measure less than that.

Against that background, after a seven-year battle, in November 1975, under a Labour government, Royal Assent is finally given to the Sex Discrimination Bill. Two months later, the Equal Pay Act, passed five years earlier, also finally comes into force: women must be paid the same as men if the work is 'broadly similar'.

The five-year 'phasing-in' period gives employers plenty of time to make sure the girls are shifted well away from the boys on the factory bench. Even so, the arrival of the twin pieces of legislation means that the world does begin to change.

'I was at a meeting recently,' says one senior trade union official, now in her fifties. 'An academic stood up and said, 'Nothing is different'. I thought, are you mad? I had no paid maternity leave, no adequate pension provision, no access to childcare, no opportunity for flexible working. Unions then didn't give a damn about the so-called women's issues, now it's a central part of their agenda. '

Thirty years on, it would seem, women in the UK have never had it so good. Rachel Mostyn, 29, is news editor of Cosmopolitan, with a readership of almost two million. 'Young women feel that we can change careers, have children, take a sabbatical and come back and still expect to find a decent job. We definitely do have a sense of entitlement.'

Girls are consistently ahead of boys at all levels in education. Women make up 50 per cent of the entrants in most of the professions and high- fliers are successfully demanding millions in compensation from the City on grounds of discrimination. Some contrary women are even going back to where it all began, evangelical yummy mummies re- colonising hearth and home.

In truth, for women, for every two steps forward, there have been several steps sideways and one back. Tomorrow, the Fawcett Society, which promotes women in public life, is publishing an audit of progress since the sex discrimination legislation became law, called 'Are We There Yet? Thirty Years of Closing the Gap Between Men and Women'.

'Are we there yet? No,' says Katherine Rake, director of Fawcett. 'Women are still paid far less, still experience widespread discrimination, still make up shockingly few of the decision-makers in the country, still pay an unfair penalty once they have children.

'We have seen a revolution " but we haven't yet seen a similar revolution in the lives of men. Women are working but still doing most at home as well. Yet we're constantly fighting propaganda that says gender equality has been won.'

'If this is post-feminism,' says Anni Marjoram, 55, adviser on women's issues to Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, 'Where was I when it was all supposed to have happened? Thirty years on, discrimination is widespread and particularly so for black and ethnic minority women. We need an entire change in culture.'

Most shameful is the pay gap. Women make up 46 per cent of the labour force but for every pounds 1 a man employed full-time earns, a woman receives 82p, an 18 per cent pay gap narrowed from 30 per cent in 1975.

Part-time women workers earn a staggering 40 per cent less than men in part-time work. According to research conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), among 5.

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SPECIAL REPORT: THE NEW SEX WAR: Women like You, Women like Me ; It Is 30 Years since the Sex Discrimination Act. Then, Women Routinely Earned Less Than Men and Were Shut out of Sports Clubs. We've Come a Long Way, but Is It Far Enough? Yvonne Roberts Reports. Interviews by Danielle Demetriou
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