At the root of violence against women lies continuing inequality, resulting in a power and control imbalance.
Violence grows out of inequality
A United Nations Committee says that violence against women and girls is rooted in ‘men’s entitlement and privilege over women, social norms regarding masculinity, and the need to assert male control or power…’
Government research concludes that ‘expectations of superiority, power and entitlement over women seemingly continue to be influential in perceptions of what it means to be a man.’
Centrally, persistent inequality lets some men think this justifies exerting power and control over women. Key to achieving equality are equal representation, pay and opportunities.
Where is male power manifested as abuse?
Examples are everywhere. Most powerful men who control and harass women believe they are protected from punishment, and often are. It is still common in politics – a recent report said nearly 20 percent of Parliamentary staff experience harassment. An ex-Tory Minister who abused his wife told her she wouldn’t ‘be believed as he was an MP’. MeToo and TimesUp have exposed assault in many circles where men have power over women.
The power imbalance even leads some men to confidently abuse women in public. This campaign video shows what most women will be familiar with: a man verbally harasses a woman in public, enjoying the power he feels. He then becomes abusive if she ignores him. Here, female MPs relate experiences of public sexual harassment. They all want it to be made a crime. It currently is not.
Men must take a stand too
Men do not often publicly stand alongside women. The case of the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai shows this. She mysteriously disappeared after claiming that former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex. The Women’s Tennis Association were worried enough about her being ‘censored by the state’ to boycott a tournament in China, but at the time the men did not follow suit. Do men believe it’s a women’s battle? For real change, men must get involved.
Liz Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, is Foreign Secretary, Brexit negotiator and Equalities Minister. (That it is one of many responsibilities reveals how the government views equality.) She agrees that men must be involved: in a speech, she promised to end ‘pink bus feminism, where women are left to fix sexism…’. But how does she intend to achieve this?
Equal representation now
Women are generally under-represented in public life. In films, where boys and girls learn about gender roles, women are often portrayed as objectified ‘eye-candy’. Only two female directors have won an Oscar.
Our institutions need more women at senior levels. A third of MPs, but less than a quarter of Conservative MPs, are female. The cabinet is three-quarters male. Similar proportions are evident in most professions. The NHS workforce is 77 percent female, but only 37 percent of hospital consultants are women.
During the Covid pandemic, female experts have been less visible. The Fawcett Society Sex & Power Index shows that only two of 56 daily press briefings have been led by a woman. Women are only 28 percent of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) despite there being many excellent female scientists. This includes Professor Sarah Gilbert, recently made a Dame in recognition of her work creating the Oxford vaccine.
In Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez argues that seeing men in public positions is the ‘default’. When one does see a few women, it is noticeable, giving the impression there are many, when actually there are fewer.
Equal pay now
The Equal Pay Act became law over 50 years ago, but is still not reality. Women still earn 19 percent less per hour. Government policy over 25 years has changed nothing.
The 2010 Equality Act, driven by Labour’s Harriet Harman, introduced compulsory gender pay gap reporting. Liz Truss agrees with this initiative, saying if companies publicise pay ranges, it leads to more equal starting points.
So, here is the hourly pay rate of female employees for every £1 earned by men at some East Anglian companies:
St Edmundsbury & Ipswich Multi Academy Trust 47p
Notcutts Nurseries Woodbridge 71p
Emmanuel College Cambridge 75p
University of East Anglia 77p
Essex Police 77p
Broadland District Council 78p
Norfolk & Norwich Hospital 78p
Abellio (trains) 81p
There are huge disparities in many employers’ pay ranges. A small number buck the trend, so it is possible:
Ford Motors Essex 99p
St Johns College Cambridge £1.03
More from Jenny Rhodes
Why the pay gap?
There are more women in low-paid roles and fewer in senior ones. Also, fewer receive bonuses, which are usually lower. Even in 2022, none of this is surprising.
Jobs with mainly female staff, like social care, command low wages. Most teachers are women, but they are less likely to gain promoted roles. Society has evolved with traditionally ‘male jobs’ being better-paid, and senior positions held mainly by men. Inevitably, pay levels influence people’s perceptions about their value and importance. Care assistants (90 percent female) earn only around the minimum wage. It is vital work, so society must rethink what care staff are paid.
Change is very slow
The gap is closing at snail’s pace. For example, the BBC only recently moved towards pay parity for broadcasters after female staff sued them – half a century after the Equal Pay Act. Historical precedent is proving hard to chip away at.
We must challenge not only why so many women are in lower paid jobs, but also why these jobs are low-paid despite their importance to society.
Violence against women is both a cause and consequence of inequality. Prevention needs laws and policies to promote equality. If women had equal representation and pay, they would be seen less as targets for abuse. Only when we dismantle entrenched power structures, will they stop being assaulted and blamed. Only by challenging stereotypes that give men power over women, will the violence stop. It’s time.