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The Evolution of Women’s Working Conditions in the UK

Being woman is not easy, and it never has been. Disequality, discrimination, and refused privileges are, unfortunately, present in every society. Above all, working conditions have been in particular imbalance. In the U.K., women workers represent the 47% of the workforce, but this fact does not mean that they are treated equally and paid the same.

In fact, the Eurostat Regional Yearbook (2016) reveals to us, the gender gap of employment is still very relevant in the U.K. The region with the lower gender gap is South Western Scotland, with the 4.4% of disparity. Meanwhile, the two regions with the higher percentage are Lincolnshire (18.5%) and Kent (15.6%.) In the remaining regions the average is between 9 and 11%. Moreover, this gap is not the only data shedding light on the issue the issue. In fact, approximately 70% of workers that receive minimum wage, are women, even in cases where they have an education relevant to the job position.

As far as we can see, the fissure that separates us from perfect equality is still far off and full of obstacles to overcome. (But we remain positive.) Indeed, we also must to consider that the current situation is the result of many arduous efforts, as women throughout history fought for our rights. Numerous were the moments in which their battle seemed for nought, but this did not deter the heroines of the past from their burden. Yes, today the fight continues, but what was it like for those heroic women to brought us to this point?

From Victorian Age to the present: women and work

During the Victorian Age, women needed an income in order to support their families. The jobs they would typically work consisted mainly of domestic service and home-based jobs, and production jobs making clothes or shoes in large factories. At the turn of the 19th century, women started being employed in different sectors, such as in coal and tins mines, or on farms. During that time, the working day was exhausting, and the pay low (and much lower than what men were paid.)

With the start of the First World War, there were more working opportunities for women who had to replace the male population who were employed prior to the war. New jobs were introduced, such as bus conductor, policewoman, postal worker, and bank clerks. But, the problem of equal pay was still present, and women workers began to fight for better pay through strikes and uprisings. During this time, women obtained raises in wages and better conditions. The situation, however, crumpled after the war when the recession hit industries and businesses.

During the Second World War, the employment of women raised dramatically again, from 5.1 million in 1939 to 7.1 million in 1943. In some cases, women were able to have the same working conditions as men, but only if they were able to perform the job without assistance or supervision. In the majority of companies, women were still receiving only 53% of men’s wage. For this reason, different uprisings took place, and within the welfare state, finally, better conditions were reached. In fact, not only were there new jobs in areas such as Health Service and clerical, secretarial and assembly sectors. But, also important acts were passed, such as the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act.

From the 1970s, in fact, women’s unionisation rates increased more and more, making their voices heard even louder. Many acts and laws followed, and the working conditions has gotten a lot better in recent years, but equality still has a ways to go.

In the following infographic, you can find further information about the progress of women’s working conditions in the U.K., with examples of some of the most influential women who fought for women everywhere.

About the author: Francesca Baggio is a marketing and Social Media enthusiast, passionate and creative travel-addict, currently working for, a B2B marketplace for businesses and institutions in Europe. Alongside his work, she is taking her master’s degree at University of Southern Denmark.

The Progress of Women's Working Conditions in the U.K.

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