Women’s rights: only for the good times?

Jean Burnett

Jean Burnett asks if our hard-won rights are are less secure than we think.

Feminist writers have frequently highlighted the connection between hard times and a backlash against working mothers in particular and working women generally. This begs the question, is the issue of women’s rights a moveable feast…is it a case of yes, dear you can have rights and opportunities when the going’s good or in times of special need, e.g.war, but when the economy sags get back to the house and wait at the school gates?

We have recently heard a Labour government (pro women, pro workers’ rights etc) considering whether to withdraw plans to extend flexible working rights to all parents of under sixteen year olds. This legislation applied overwhelmingly to women who are still shouldering the responsibility for childcare regardless of their career path.

During the Second World War when women were needed to work in the factories or to replace men who had gone off to fight, nurseries and crèches appeared on almost every street as if by magic. Women were given undreamed of opportunities to train as welders or train drivers. When the men returned it all went into reverse and married women who worked outside the home were often vilified.  In the teaching profession and the civil service, resignation was mandatory as soon as you married.

It’s difficult for confident young career women today to imagine such a society. They tend to be unaware how recent a phenomenon is the concept of women’s rights in the workplace. (viz the schoolgirl whose reaction to reading Jane Eyre was “Why didn’t she stop whingeing and get a job in a bank?”)

Thirty years after the Equal Pay Act the gender gap is as wide as ever and the CBI went into ecstatic mode at the suggestion of curbing flexitime. The most worrying aspect of the government’s idea is not whether it actually happens but the fact that it could be suggested quite calmly because we are in an economic downturn.

Women did not take to streets in protest – a problem in itself. Why are we so careless of our hard-won liberties? Will the Human Rights Act or EU legislation protect us if the recession bites deeper…who will be first in line for redundancy? Think about this if you were not planning to vote at the next general election!

It makes you glad to be a writer, doesn’t it? Our age old freedom to earn next- to -nothing while remaining quietly typing in our attics is one to be cherished!

bww before the unchained launch

Sisters doin’ it for ourselves? Here we are setting up for last week’s amazing launch. More pics and stories soon, or take a look at our Facebook Page for Writers Unchained .

There’s a link to Jean’s novel on the Bookshop Page.

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