IN the first of our series leading up to International's Women's Day on Thursday (March 8), we examine six equality battles that still need to be won.

End the gender pay gap

When the trailblazing machinists at Ford's flagship car factory in Dagenham, Essex, helped create a catalyst for the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970, few probably imagined that almost half a century later many women would still be being paid less than men.

The legislation prohibited paying men and women differently for the same work, but the gender pay gap is arguably as much alive today as in 1968 when the Dagenham Girls – as they became dubbed – downed tools and headed for London to lobby then employment secretary Barbara Castle.

Every company that employs more than 250 people must report on the pay disparity between their male and female workers by April this year. According to the latest government figures, 74 per cent of firms in the UK pay higher rates to their male staff.

Some of the early figures published are jaw-dropping. Among the high street banks, Lloyds has the most marked gap, with men earning more than double in bonus pay compared with women. RBS and Barclays also revealed low average pay and bonuses for women when compared with men.

Recent weeks have highlighted the gulf between male and female employees at the BBC with a 6.8 per cent gender pay gap among on-air staff (and an overall average of 9.3 per cent). The national average is 18 per cent.

Lest we forget the Glasgow City Council workers – some 6,000 women – who last year won a landmark equal pay victory that will see Scotland's largest local authority pay out up to £500m.

Goal: abolish the gender pay gap between men and women across all job sectors.

READ MORE: Herald writers on the Scottish women who inspire them most

Equal representation

Women may make up more than half the Scottish and UK populations - 51 per cent each – but despite 100 years of voting they remain frustratingly under-represented at the top of the institutions holding society's power, influence and purse strings.

The reasons women don't routinely make it to the top are many and complicated, often reflecting deep-seated prejudices in society. But until there is 50/50 representation in the organisations and institutions that have so much say over all our lives, equality will remain a distant dream.

There has been some progress, of course, as evidenced by the fact that both the First Minister and Prime Minister are women. But equal representation in parliament still has a considerable way to go. Indeed, at the last Holyrood election there was no progress at all, with the 35 per cent female representation showing a backward step from the high point of 2003's 39.5 per cent. At Westminster just 32 per cent of MPs are female.

This disappointing lack of progress comes despite the SNP and Scottish Labour both supporting positive action policies such as all-women shortlists and the fielding of equal male/female candidates.

Some argue to continue a gradualist approach, others believe legally-binding quotas is the only way to ensure equal representation in politics, although this would undoubtedly be controversial move, including among many women.

Elsewhere in society, meanwhile, progress has been even slower. Only a quarter of Scottish judges are women – one of the lowest proportions in Europe – while fewer than one in five directors at the top 50 Scots companies are female. Other sectors such as the media are also sorely under-represented.

Scotland is ahead of the rest of the UK in pressing for change in the boardroom, with public sector boards now legally obliged to work towards a 50 per cent target for non-executive directors by 2022. The private sector is yet to follow suit, however.

Goal: Equal representation for women and men in Parliament and across senior roles in business, the judiciary and media.


One of the main reasons women still struggle to reach senior positions in society is that they are still overwhelmingly expected to take the lead in childcare. And despite a gradual change in attitudes among employers and families alike, the years spent out of the workplace or working part-time to look after children is still damaging women's career prospects and earning capacity. The high cost of childcare, meanwhile, can be as harmful as outdated attitudes.

Despite relationships becoming more equal over time, the domestic burden still falls predominantly on women to be the carers. Paternity rights in the UK are still far from generous or practical, with many fathers either not qualifying, unable to afford or choosing not to take the full leave allowed.

Many women want to return to work after they've had children, but simply find it financially unviable. A recent survey on the website Mumsnet found that two thirds of women would work more hours if childcare was more affordable.

On this count Scotland – and indeed the UK – lag far behind the Scandinavian nations, where childcare is around two thirds cheaper. In Sweden, for example, parents of either gender are paid 80 per cent of their salary to take 480 days leave after the birth of a child, and nurseries are paid by the state to provide flexible and reasonably priced care so that women are actively encouraged to return to the workplace.

In Norway, 85 per cent of mothers work. In the UK, the figure is around 73 per cent, considerably lower for single mothers.

The Scottish Government has long been in favour of extending free nursery care as a means to boost both equality and the economy, and is in the process of doubling the number of hours given to families, to the equivalent of 30 per week during term time, putting it well ahead of the rest of UK.

Earlier this month, however, the Audit Commission said cash-strapped local authorities were struggling to put this expensive but potentially transformative policy into practice, highlighting how difficult it can be to make real progress, even with the backing of society and parliament.

Goal: Greater sharing of childcare responsibilities between both partners and more affordable and flexible childcare that will allow women to return to the workplace.

READ MORE: Herald writers on the Scottish women who inspire them most

Violence and abuse against women

Although some attitudes have undoubtedly changed towards issues such as domestic abuse and sexual harassment over the years, recent events such as the Rotherham and Rochdale abuse rings and the Harvey Weinstein scandal highlight that women and girls are still preyed upon, violated, abused and objectified by men in a depressingly routine manner.

High-profile movements such as the #MeToo and Everyday Sexism campaigns have come into the mainstream, giving women a voice to call out perpetrators and share experiences.

The resulting furore has also encouraged wider society to question and scrutinise more closely what is deemed acceptable in terms of male behaviour, and the impact this has on relationships between men and women.

There has been something of a backlash, talk of witch hunts and pendulums swinging too far, as often accompanies societal progress. But there is also hope both sexes that we will look back on this time as a watershed moment.

If nothing else, it is certainly a moment when harassment and abuse entered mainstream consciousness and just about every sector of society - including, most recently, charities - exposed perpetrators.

Politics has been no exception and aside from high-profile Westminster sackings, a recent survey at Holyrood found that one in three women who worked there had experienced sexual harassment and sexist behaviour.

Such high numbers surely surprised few in light of recent events, and what matters now is the quality of policies and regulations put in place to stop such behaviour in future and protect those who speak up.

Violence, abuse and harassment represents a huge spectrum of behaviour, of course. And, at the most serious end, there is mixed progress. While the introduction of a "gold standard" domestic abuse law in Scotland has been widely welcomed, a 10 per cent fall in rape convictions, despite a rise in curt proceedings, is cause for concern.

Goal: Legislation will have an important role to play, but education of men and boys that can help change attitudes and prevent violence, abuse and harassment of women and girls in the first place, is vital, too.

Achieve gender parity in sport

While recent research suggests that income disparity between male and female athletes is narrowing, there is still much work to done.

A study published by BBC Sport last year found that 83 per cent of sports now reward men and women equal prize money. This compares to 70 per cent in 2014. When will the battle be won? It's simple: when we reach 100 per cent.

In football, the women's World Cup winners receive £2m and the men a whopping £35m. Real Madrid, meanwhile, were given £13.5m for winning the Champion's League last year, with Lyon, winners of women's event, picking up just £219,920.

Golf and cricket also have significant gaps between the genders, as do cycling, darts and snooker. Tennis and athletics present equal prize money.

Nor is it just about salaries and winnings. Only seven per cent of UK sports media coverage is devoted to women and a mere 0.4 per cent of commercial investment.

There have been positive steps with professional darts and Formula One racing announcing this year that they would no longer use "walk-on girls" and "grid girls".

Last week cycling's Tour de France indicated it would follow suit with its "podium girls". Here's to boxing seeing the light and ditching the archaic and misogynistic practice of "ring girls".

Goal: Equal prize money across all sports and an end to podium/grid/walk-on/ring girls.

READ MORE: Herald writers on the Scottish women who inspire them most

Encourage more women to work in science, technology, engineering and maths

Gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) remains prevalent. We need to see more initiatives like the one launched last week by accountancy firm PwC to boost the number of women pursuing technology careers.

The "Tech She Can Charter", which has support from 18 major organisations including Tesco, NatWest, Girlguiding and the British Science Association, aims is to create the right environment to attract, recruit and retain more women in tech.

Goal: more visible and high-profile women role models working in STEM fields.

READ MORE: Ann Fotheringham visits the Glasgow Women's Library