To mark Women’s History Month, this issue’s welcome address comes from Helen Pankhurst (see page 22).
Over the last 100 years, women’s opportunities in the UK have improved dramatically. It is now illegal to pay women less for doing the same work as men. We now lead from the top of all professions, have become heads of the most traditional universities, been consecrated as bishops and launched into space. We can have careers in the army and box at the Olympics. Many of the taboos about our roles have changed. We have gained control over our fertility and glass ceilings at work have been shattered. Meanwhile, our roles at home have been transformed by technical innovations, by the increasing engagement of men in the domestic sphere and by a greater valuation of us – and by us – of what it is to be a woman.
However – and that qualifier is screaming to be let loose – for every step forward, there are forces pulling us back. Violence remains a real threat, women are still subordinated socially, politically and economically and the massive resistance to change remains. Traditional sexist norms endure and often define our lives.
For anyone who wants to understand women’s rights or be involved in one of the most exciting and important conversations of our time, basic questions include the following: how far have we really got? Where are the areas of gains and regressions? How are these experienced by different categories of women? How relevant is the whole feminist discourse to women’s identity today? There are also trickier questions. Why is it taking so long? How can we better understand resistance and engines of change and how can we speed things up? And finally, what are our aims for the future?