How Far Have We Come? A Brief History of Women’s Workplace Regulations
The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Finland. In modern life, this day is celebrated worldwide by womxn from all walks of life. Life looked very different for women compared to 100 years ago, and the sector that has evolved most for women has been the world of work.
Here’s a glimpse into the laws and legislations in the UK that have allowed women to break the glass ceiling and take jobs that women in the 1910s could only dream of.
1906-1906: The birth of the National Federation of Women’s Workers by Mary MacArthur.
1907: In 1907, The Qualification of Women Act was brought into effect. This allowed women to be voted onto borough and county councils and even, surprisingly, be elected Mayor.
1909: The National Federation of Women’s Workers and other trade unions lobbied against sweatshop trades; this encouraged the Government to pass the Trade Boards Act, which set the first legal minimum wages.
1918-1918: Brought the end of the First World War and The Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act, allowing women to stand as MPs. During the war, women’s employment rose to 46.7%.
1920-1920: Introduction of the Sex Discrimination Removal Act, permitting women to become lawyers and accountants.
1941: Introduction of the National Service Act during the Second World War. The Act meant that women aged between 20-43 could be conscripted into war work. Research has found that 90% of unmarried and 80% of married women worked in factories or in agriculture during the war.
1956: In 1956, legal reforms argued for equal pay for women teachers and civil servants.
1958-1958: Implementation of the Life Peerages Act, which allowed women to sit in the House of Lords.
1970: Following lobbying from second-wave feminists, the Equal Pay Act was introduced, making it illegal to pay women less money for doing the same job as their male counterparts.
1975: The Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in work or education. In the same year, the Employment Protection Act introduced the idea of maternity pay for the first time, as well as making it illegal to fire women simply because they are pregnant.
1976: The Equal Opportunities Commission was formed to oversee past laws made for ensuring equal opportunities. The Race Relations Act was brought in, making it illegal to discriminate in work or education based on skin colour.
1985: The Equal Pay Amendment Act was reintroduced, reinforcing that it was illegal to pay women less for work that was of the same value as their male counterparts.
1986: Amendment of the Sex Discrimination Act, enabling women to retire at the same age as men and work night shifts in factories.
1994: The UK introduced its first ‘Take your daughter to work day.’
1999: Changes implemented to the parental leave including allowing women to take thirteen weeks off of work to care for children under the age of five. The Sex Discrimination Gender Reassignment Act made it illegal to discriminate against Transgender individuals at work and in education.
2003: Reforms made to the Employment Equality Act to protect people from being discriminated against due to their sexuality.
While women’s rights in work have progressed leaps and bounds, there remain colossal issues for the average working women. According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2020, gender parity stands at 68.6% and the bottom 10 countries have closed just 40% of the gender gap. Globally, only 55% of women (aged 15-64) are engaged in the labour market as opposed to 78% of men. There are seventy two countries where women are barred from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit. There is no country where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as women. In countries where the ratio is lowest, it is still two to one, and segregation and misogyny still rear their ugly heads in workplaces all over world.
Going forward, policymakers need to be held accountable to provide access to skills needed for the world of future jobs for the youth. To truly equip future generations with skills required for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s labour market, gender parity needs to be addressed from every facet of education.