Pilita Clarke: Has the push for female equality gone too far?

webnexttech | Pilita Clarke: Has the push for female equality gone too far?

This month, the people of Ireland did something shocking. They voted overwhelmingly not to boost female equality. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, a resounding 73.9 per cent voted against changing a part of their 87-year-old Constitution that in effect says a woman’s place is in the home. The offending section declares: “The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”. Voters were asked to scrap this archaic guff and approve a new clause saying the State would aim to support caregiving “by members of a family to one another”. But voters did no such thing. A slew of explanations have been offered for the biggest No vote in Irish referendum history. There were fears the change would cement the idea that caring is a private, unpaid family responsibility with no guarantee of State support. The amendment was tricky to explain. The Yes campaign was uneven. More than two-thirds — 67.7 per cent — of voters also rejected a separate amendment that would have recognised families were based on “durable relationships”, not just marriage. But the vote on women’s “duties in the home” was still a jolt, not least because this is Ireland. The country scores well in European gender equality rankings and more than 60 per cent of its voters agreed to legalise same-sex marriage in 2015 and repeal a ban on abortions in 2018. Nearly half the British population agree it is job done on women’s equality — up from less than a third who thought that five years ago. More to the point, this is not the only sign that the march to female equality is looking rocky. Ireland is one of 31 countries covered by new research from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London and the Ipsos polling group that found several things I did not expect to see in 2024. When it comes to giving women equal rights with men, a sobering 53 per cent now think things have gone far enough in their country, up from 42 per cent in 2019. The swing is evident from Thailand and Peru to Sweden and the UK. Nearly half the British population agree it is job done on women’s equality — up from less than a third who thought that five years ago. Worse, 47 per cent of Brits think we’ve done so much to promote women’s equality that we are discriminating against men. A similar share thinks that way in Ireland (45 per cent) and globally (46 per cent). As you might expect, men are more inclined to think this than women. But you might be surprised by which men. It turns out that someone in Generation Z, who has yet to turn 30, is much more likely to hold these views than a boomer twice their age. It is unclear exactly what is driving these views. Convincing arguments can be made for economic pressures, rising income inequality and polarising social media. But one thing is certain: if men really are suffering discrimination, the discriminators are doing a rubbish job of it. Female equality has improved in many parts of the world, especially in education. Male students have been outnumbered on university campuses in many countries for years. But this has yet to translate into equality nirvana. Globally, women still earn 77 cents for every $1 paid to men, and spend an average of 2.4 hours more a day doing unpaid care work. The more evidence we see of hardening attitudes, the more work we need to do to understand why. Although more than a third of countries have now had a female leader at some point, the latest data show that at any given moment in time, the share of countries where the most powerful leader is a women has never risen above 10 per cent. At current rates of progress, it will take an estimated 162 years for women to have political equality with men. It will take even longer to end the economic inequality that fuels the physical or sexual violence that nearly a third of women worldwide have experienced in their lifetimes. And so on. None of this means we should dismiss what men think about female equality. Far from it. The more evidence we see of hardening attitudes, the more work we need to do to understand why. Because one thing is certain: female inequality is still very real and the already long effort to overturn it still has much further to go. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024 Sign up for Business push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phoneFind The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to dateOur Inside Business podcast is published weekly – Find the latest episode here

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