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Gender inequality in Britain: are changes to paternity leave the solution?

In 2014, The Global Gender Gap Report (World Economic Forum) revealed that Great Britain had reportedly fallen out of the top 20 index for gender equality: we now stand at (an embarrassingly not-so-Great) 26th. It is our lowest score for gender equality since 2008; providing further justification of the need for feminism in modern Britain.

As a self-proclaimed feminist, I think it is a shame that much of contemporary debate on gender inequality is all too frequently reduced to what can only be described as ‘man-bashing’. Ultimately, serving to detract from genuine issues facing women. My personal perception of feminism centres on gender equality which must function mutually between men and women.

However, Miliband has announced Labour’s two-fold plan which aims to both double this to four weeks, and increase statutory paternity pay to £260 a week

And so, we need only look at the discrepancies between maternity and paternity leave in this country; women are entitled to 271 calendar days, whilst men, frankly, are not. Since 2003, fathers have been entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave, receiving a statutory rate of £138.18 a week. However, Miliband has announced Labour’s two-fold plan which aims to both double this to four weeks, and increase statutory paternity pay to £260 a week. In case you were unclear to what this means: it is equivalent to receiving the current minimum wage for a forty-hour week, and would, Labour argues, decrease financial pressures and thus encourage fathers to take more time off, giving children the “best start in life they can”.

Last year, however, The Guardian reported that not one country has been able to close its gender gap since 2006. The World Economic Forum suggests that if nothing is done to increase the rate of progress, it will take about 81 years for the worldwide gender gap to close. Clearly something needs to be done here.

We must seek to break down the stereotypical gender roles that are enforced upon both men and women

Yes, plans to increase paternity leave are one step in the right direction. In the same way that a woman should be entitled to be career-driven and ambitious in the workplace, a man should be entitled to be family-oriented and more active within a domestic setting. We must seek to break down the stereotypical gender roles that are enforced upon both men and women.

It hinges on choice; men and women should have an equal choice to focus on whichever aspect of their life they may choose. To some extent, it is physiologically necessary for a new mother to stay with her new-born for a given amount of time, but this does not mean that it is not beneficial for the father to choose to do the same.

The Guardian described that women currently have 60% of the standing of men worldwide. The pertinence of this problem remains. However, if we want to achieve a society in which legitimate equality exists between men and women, then we must reduce the rigid stereotyping and expectations placed on men, and fathers.

Natalia Deane

Image courtesy of I am Ming via Flickr

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