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'There are no inequalities left here' - Anne Widdecombe is wrong.


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In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, published over the weekend on 8th March – International Women’s Day – former MP Ann Widdecombe explained that she felt the event was ‘a good opportunity to ponder the fate of women abroad’. 

Ann WiddecombeWhile this is indeed true, and a fair point to make, her comments that followed were somewhat disappointing, to say the least and an excercise in missing the point: 

"I forever hear whinging here about women not being treated equally, but that's rubbish. There are no inequalities left here. We don't know we are born."

While it may be fair to say that women are, in many respects, in a far worse position in other countries than our own, that does not mean that things are fine for us here nor limit the 'inequalities' we also face.

If we had to apply some sort of spectrum or grading system to the problems women face the world over then, yes, to some our problems may not compare to those of women abroad who face threats of state-sanctioned rape, FGM, child marriage and honour killings on a daily basis.

Let’s not forget that, actually, many of these problems do affect women in the UK and awareness of their presence is growing, but issues such as the pay gap, female autonomy, sexual harassment and discrimination are still very real problems – and they are problems that women in the UK should not feel they have to accept and/or ignore simply because we have it ‘better’ than others further away. 

Really, none of these problems are isolated; from unequal pay to barbaric sexual practices, they are firmly rooted in age-old patriarchal ideology that places women below men in almost every respect.  

‘First world feminism’ as some have dubbed the fight against such issues as the pay gap or everyday sexism, is no less valid than the fight against problems faced by women in third world countries. We are extremely lucky, living in the UK, to have relatively easy access to legal representation. And they are rights that have been fought for, for years, and rights that we should continue to fight for. 

Geography is inconsequential; regardless of where we live, women face the same problems as much as they face different ones.

We are still fighting to be seen as being of equal value to our male counterparts in the workplace and in society. We are still fighting for the right to feel safe in wearing whatever we damn well please, and not to then be blamed if some ignorant, self-entitled arsehole decides that gives him the right to grope us or worse; is a male victim of rape ever asked what he was wearing, as though this might indicate that he was ‘asking for it’?

We are still fighting for the right to be masters of our own autonomy; if the tables were turned, and a man found himself unexpectedly pregnant, would society deny him the right to decide what to do with his own body? 

In 1792, in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote: "I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves."

Over 200 years later, in 2011, Caitlin Moran wrote in How To Be A Woman: 

"I have a rule of thumb that allows me to judge…whether or not some sexist bullshit is's asking this question; are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well? Is this taking up the men’s time? Are the men told not to do this, as it's letting the side down? ...Almost always the answer is no. The boys are not being told they have to be a certain way, they are just getting on with stuff."

These are just two examples, but ones which show that women in the UK are still, centuries later, yet to be seen as equal to men.

Perhaps things are not as bad as they were 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago, but to suggest that we should all raise a glass and announce equality successfully achieved is really just akin to sticking our fingers in our ears, smiling, and blocking out the muffled shouts of every woman who has suffered, and continues to suffer, discrimination and abuse in modern society. 

The fight for gender equality in the UK and beyond is far from over, and it is not some exclusive club; the world is not the Mean Girls cafeteria scene, and the UK is not ‘The Plastics’, sitting at a table and saying ‘you can’t sit with us’ to anyone outside its first-world clique. The fight for equality – whether it is a handful of influential Western women demanding equal pay, or a young girl from Pakistan who, despite being shot in the head for daring to pursue the right to an education, continues to fight for others to do the same – is a worldwide one. It demands the same rights for all women across the globe, and to dismiss it as mere ‘whinging’ is reductive and damaging.

The fight is not over; we may have won a battle or two, but we are far from winning the war.

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