Women Deserve Better: Reversing Structural Inequality


“Low pay is a gendered issue and points to the need for relevant policies to dismantle the social structures underpinning such inequalities.”

By Professor Cecile Wright

“The structural dimension of gender inequality refers to the unequal division and resources between women and men. These inequalities are assigned through other gendered mechanisms, which are reproduced and maintained at the individual as well as societal level” Okin, 1989 

Notwithstanding, the saliency of the intersectional lens, women’s structural inequalities and poverty in respect of income, employment, health, livelihood and so forth, demand innovative approaches, particularly within a context where inequality has been sharply widened. Too often, discussions about structural inequality are absent from policy debates.

Contemporary evidence of structural dimensions of gender inequality

Understanding the extent to which the structural inequality experienced by women over the last 13 years has widened is illustrated by the effect of the financial crises exemplified by austerity policies and the cost of living crisis. 

If we focus on the impact of the ‘cost of living crisis’ on women’s livelihood and opportunities, there is a big impact in respect of income and household expenditure. For example, according to a recent YouGov Survey, 61% of women say they are more anxious about being able to pay their bills than this time last year, compared to 47% of men. The same study reported that women consistently said that worrying about money was making them feel depressed as they felt unable to afford various household costs over the coming year, including energy bills. The findings highlight the disproportionate impact that the cost of living crisis is having on women. 

Women often shoulder the burden of managing household costs such as food and childcare and are also more likely to be low paid, and in part-time or insecure employment. Those in low paid jobs without savings to fall back on have undoubtedly been hit the hardest by the sharp rise in inflation. In addition, non-durable household goods, for example food and cleaning products are typically more susceptible to inflation-induced volatility.

Women are also more likely to rely on the benefit system, making them more vulnerable to rises in the cost of living through Government failure to uprate benefits in line with inflation. Single parents, the majority of whom are women, are even more likely to be living in poverty. This situation is compounded by race and ethnicity. There are disproportionately more non- white women living in poverty in the UK.

Regarding the gender pay gap in the UK today, alarmingly, a fifth of women in work (20.4%) are paid below the real living wage, approximately 2.9m people, compared to 14% of men (1.9 million).  

Analysis of the Office of National Statistics’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings has found that in a range of sectors including care work, the arts entertainment and recreation, as well as accommodation and food services, low paid roles are predominantly done by women.

In social care, where women outnumber men four to one, 71% of care workers in the independent care sector are paid less than the real living wage.  

In essence, low pay is a gendered issue and points to the need for relevant policies to dismantle the social structures underpinning such inequalities. 

 Health inequality and Black women

In respect of health inequality, the experiences of Black, Asian, and ethnic minority women is an area in which there has been limited attention and an incomplete understanding of the effectiveness of different policy interventions. For example, with respect to maternal care, the House of Commons Committee report: ‘Causes of maternal health disparities: Understanding the causes of ethnic disparities’, April 2023. Although the UK does have one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, the report has highlighted stark and persistent disparities in maternal outcomes for women based on race/ethnicity. For instance, ‘Maternal mortality for Black women is currently almost four times higher than for White women. Significant disparities also exist for women of Asian and mixed ethnicity’.

In conclusion it can be seen that embedded gender inequality is continuing to disadvantage women. This is compounded by race and other factors. To tackle this, we could start by reversing all the austerity policies of the Tory governments since 2010.

We could also think about returning to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) structure within the Labour Party to address the specifics of black women’s inequalities.

Furthermore, equal pay legislation needs to be strengthened and acted upon tenaciously in order to achieve the structural transformation in this area.

  • Professor Cecile Wright is a member of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) Executive Committee and is one of six candidates standing for election to Labour’s National Women’s Committee supported by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA).
  • The CLGA is encouraging CLP delegates to Labour’s Women’s Conference to vote for Cecile alongside Zoe Allan, Claudia Boes, Chloe Hopkins, Juliet Miller and Helen Smith. 
  • On Friday 29 September, 6.30pm join ‘Labour Women’s Voices Matter‘ – a webinar with information for Women’s Conference delegates plus Q&A with speakers from Labour’s National Women’s Committee, Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee and others. Organised by CLPD, Labour Women Leading and Momentum.
  • CLPD’s Women’s Conference Fringe meeting ‘Fighting for a democratic, active Labour’s Women’s Organisation‘ takes place at Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BT on Friday, 6th October, at 5PM.
  • Join other delegates as they take a stand to protest the downgrading of our Women’s Conference and call on the Labour Party to ensure women’s voices are listened to and make a difference: ‘Save Our Women’s Conference‘ takes place on Saturday 7th October at 9.30AM outside of the Conference Centre (near Pizza Express).

Featured image: Women of the World Unite banner at the demonstration on New York’s 5th Avenue on August 26th, 1970

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