By Alice Brooks
The United Kingdom is one of the most developed nations across the world, ranking 15th in the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2019. The HDI is a system used by the United Nations to indicate a country’s level of human development – it monitors how a country turns income into education and health opportunities and, as a result, into higher levels of human development. So why, if the UK has such a high level of human development, is gender equality not yet achieved?
In 2018, there were high hopes for the UK when the Guardian rated the country 15th in the global rankings for gender equality. However, it was not long before the nation dropped six places to 21st in 2019, with the World Economic Forum (WEF) stating the fall was due to women being underrepresented in Parliament. Almost a year has gone by since this rating and it has left many of us wondering if anything has changed.
I can tell you, it hasn’t. Despite the advice from WEF, our government still lacks representation amongst MPs with only 220 of the 650 current MPs being women (33.8%). Although this is an increase of approximately 9% from the preceding year, it’s still not the gender balance we are battling for.
We now find ourselves in a world never experienced before. With each person living in their own bubble, and each country finding a new way of life, this pandemic has caused unprecedented change. Unfortunately, some of this change has seen the UK backtrack in gender equality by decades.
I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and spotted a post about academics in lockdown, more specifically, women academics in lockdown. This post spoke about how if two academics – male and female – were stuck at home during the pandemic with their family, the male academic would progress through his research faster than his female counterpart. One article by the Guardian claimed that submissions by men to the Comparative Political Studies journal increased by 50% in April, while submissions by women ‘plummeted’. I don’t think you need to be a Statistical Analyst to see the problem here.
We are living in a country that has, once again, adopted the social construct that women are the nurturers while men are the providers. It is disheartening that this inequality and gender imbalance can creep back into our lives so quickly, and without many of us realising. It has become a normality for our mums to take over the home-schooling, the extra cooking, and the extra cleaning whilst our dads continue with their Zoom meetings and ‘important’ work.
The male academics that are now stuck at home, with all this free time, are doing twice as much work as their female-academic wives who are taking care of the children’s learning before their own. It seems that after years of campaigning for equality and social development, there is a growing danger of being back to square one.
This unwelcome comeback of stereotypical gender roles in today’s society could see long-lasting and damaging effects on the future of this country. With more women at home, and being pushed into traditional roles, there will be the fear that women will be so acclimatised to domesticity that they will struggle to return to what SHOULD be normal when this is all over: women at work and men doing their fair share of housework. Not to mention the economic consequences if the country begins to operate at only 50% capacity.
Putting this into perspective, in 2015, there were 31.3 million people in work in the UK between the ages of 16 and 64. 14.6 million of these people were women. Now consider that during this pandemic, 9.1 million jobs have been furloughed, causing the country to come to an almost stand-still. So, there is no doubt that with the loss of 14.6 million women in work, this country would be on its knees.
To put an end to this social construct and these traditional gender roles, as a society, it is crucial that we push for equality. Men, please make a conscious effort to do your fair share of the domestic duties. Encourage the women around you to take time to work on their careers. Women, take time for yourselves! You are people who deserve to succeed professionally as much as any man.
As lockdown eases and this odd way of life comes to an end, it becomes ever more important that we stick to what we believe is right – not only do we want the social distancing, the lack of social interaction and loss of routine to come to an end, we want gender inequality to follow in those footsteps.