A new year means a new beginning. A new chance for progression in our lives. Unfortunately, as we advance into 2017, our society seems at times to be moving backwards instead. If you happened to be a woman in the run-up to 2017, it won’t have escaped your notice that this new year may bring as many problems as resolutions.
Women make up around 49.6% of the world’s population, but even in these modern times equality still seems far off. From education to work to legislation, the truth is if you are female you are more likely to be disadvantaged.
We can’t talk about the terrible treatment of women without mentioning those two little words we are all sick of hearing – Donald Trump. His misogyny – both publicly proclaimed and clumsily concealed – is almost unbelievable in this day and age.
The rape allegations, the sexist name-calling, the judging of women’s bodies; he has committed so many atrocities against women that listing them all would need its own article.
While these gained attention for all the wrong reasons during his campaign, it’s his actions during the upcoming presidency that could seriously impact women across America. Trump has previously said that women should be “punished” for having abortions, and his own healthcare plans would reduce access to abortion, contraception and preventative care.
This would not only limit women’s sexual freedom, but also their right to make their own life choices. His comments aren’t just crude now; they’re downright scary.
Trump is only half the story; America remains the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave at federal level. True, the Family Medical Leave Act 1993 provided 12 weeks maternity leave – unpaid. Some states have made more extensive provisions, but fully paid maternity leave for all is still a long way off.
For ‘The Greatest Country in the World’, the US still seems pretty backwards on how it treats its women. But it’s not just in America that women’s rights are used as a political football. A lot closer to home, Northern Ireland still has laws that ban women from getting an abortion – even if the pregnancy is caused by rape or incest, or there are fatal foetal abnormalities.
If women wish to have an abortion they have to travel to the UK and pay for the procedure, or take abortion pills bought online. It’s staggering that two women born a few miles apart across a border can have such different rights that affect their lives.
However, within the UK, men and women are still treated differently – even with equality legislation. The Equal Pay Act 1970 “prohibits any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment.”
Yet on average women earn 18% less than men, and this increases if a woman has children. Women are also less likely to enter high-paying careers, and are underrepresented in jobs such as STEM. Despite more women than men graduating from university, Britain has a stubborn gender pay gap that will just not go away.
Outside the workplace women also have it tough. A modern life means modern expectations. Social media puts pressure on women to document themselves and what’s happening in their lives. Now more than ever women must show their perfect relationship, perfect family, perfect career, and perfect body, and woe betide anyone who does not meet these impossible standards.
By displaying themselves for anyone to see, women are leaving themselves open to judgement and criticism – even from other women. Issues such as low self-esteem and mental health problems can arise from such an intense pressure to be perfect.
But by putting their lives online, it also provides another platform for women to be torn down and told their opinions do not matter. Hatred and misogyny comes anonymously from behind a screen, and any woman online is at risk from being told how ugly, stupid or slutty she is.
Women are an easy target for trolls, as any calm and considered response can be countered with “Get back to the kitchen!” from an anonymous egg. It doesn’t take much for comments to become violent and sexual, and things are typed which would never be said to a woman’s face simply because they are so shameful.
Perhaps what is most shocking about this lack of respect towards women is how common it is, and how it is still accepted in our society.
Women still suffer from domestic violence. Women are still raped. Women are still whistled at and threatened in the street.
Sexual harassment is never a compliment, and it always makes a woman feel ashamed and scared. Not convinced this is an issue? Speak to your mother, your sister, or your friend. Speak to any woman.
Every one has a story of a time they were treated in a way in which no human should be treated. Websites like The Everyday Sexism Project document women’s – and even young girls’ – own stories of harassment. At some points it is difficult to read because it is so horrifying, but it’s important to show the prevalence of this behaviour towards women.
Despite the severity of these issues, one of the worst problems for women in 2017 is that fact that feminism is still not taken seriously. Women’s fights for their rights are ridiculed and deemed unnecessary. The outdated stereotype of the unshaven, butch, preachy feminist is still widespread, even though feminists really look more like Emma Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Malala Yousafzai.
It’s no coincidence that the people who say women are equal now also tend to be the same people who tell jokes about rape and violence. What many people don’t realise is that better rights for women go hand-in-hand with better rights for men – equality means life is better for everyone. No matter how many times a woman is called a dyke or a feminazi, one thing is true – if women are still being treated unfairly, then feminism will always exist in one way or another.
Going into 2017 we can be hopeful – a resurgence of female leaders, such as Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, means that important decisions affecting women are not all made by old white men. Slowly changes are being made, but there is still a way to go. As long as women are still being judged on their looks and marital status rather than their achievements, they will not be equal. Perhaps in 2017 we will begin to progress towards equality for everyone, no matter what their gender.