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We Need A Feminist Economy

We Need A Feminist Economy

100 years on since some women won the vote, the UK is still being held back from true equality because we fail to recognise that the economy is sexist.

I’m not just talking about lower pay for women, including the recent controversy over BBC pay to female workers. I’m talking about how sexism is built into who’s doing what in the labour market.

Many of today's working women are paid to cook, clean and care for others. While this work provides the social infrastructure that keeps the wheels on the economy, and our society humane, it is notoriously low paid and insecure.

The number of women in low paid work has increased by more than a million in the last decade. Markets value women less, especially in relation to work they use to do for free.

Today, women are far more likely to be in work, but this shift hasn't always broken traditional ideas of female roles in society. 

Women are still paid less that men, and not just because employers discriminate against women, but also because certain low paid sectors that disproportionately employ women are growing significantly.

Take the social care sector where the vast majority of the workforce are women and most are paid the minimum wage - forecasters expect this to be the fastest-growing sector up to 2020 – a worrying sign that an institutionally sexist economy isn’t going away anytime soon.

Outside of the formalised labour market, women continue to do far more child care and housework than men in every country.

To combine family commitments together with paid employment women tend take lower-paid, part-time or informal work - locking women in a situation with low pay.

The biggest battle in women's equality is not about shattering glass ceilings or even getting equal pay for equal work which is long overdue, it is in changing the economic system and forcing the market to recognise and value all forms of work. For that, we need a feminist economy. 

Dr Faiza Shaheen is Director of CLASS

PHOTO: Emmeline Pankhurst