Women’s Rights – What More Work Needs to Be Done?
Seven generations ago, dramatic social and legal changes for women were regarded as outlandish – unthinkable. But now the world’s people take these achievements completely for granted. Younger people, for example, can’t imagine how life was different. The staggering improvements in family life, religious freedom, government, education, employment and economic opportunity that have happened over the past seven generations did not just happen – they were the result of vigorous and determined efforts by women themselves. These gains have been so rapid that they are easy to miss.
The progress was particularly remarkable in the areas of equality and legal rights for women. In the 1960s, women energised by Friedan’s book joined with government leaders and trade union representatives who had been lobbying for equal pay and protection against workplace discrimination. They decided that polite requests were insufficient and established their own national pressure group, the National Organization for Women (now called NOW). NOW was modeled on the civil rights groups of the time and worked for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment died in 1982, however, because not enough states ratified it.
In the 34 countries surveyed, nearly all adults say it is important that men and women have equal rights in their country. This view is especially strong among those in Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Australia. But majorities in most nations, including those with the highest standards of living, also agree that more needs to be done to achieve gender equality.
When asked what they think a society with equal rights for men and women would look like, most who say more work is needed mention equality in the workplace: 45% specifically name equal pay, while 19% name no discrimination in hiring and promotion. A smaller share mention that parents would not have to choose between caring for their children and going to work, and 2% mention equal paid leave.
Some respondents also note that women and men are treated differently in some ways, such as in the way they are addressed in public and their ability to control their own finances. Others point to sexism, sexual harassment and different societal expectations as obstacles to achieving women’s equality.
While most of those who think there is more to do on women’s rights mention at least one issue, most also say that they expect the progress that has been made will continue. A large share also says that women and men are equally responsible for advancing women’s rights.
Across all demographic and political groups, most Americans agree that it is important for women to have the same rights as men. But a partisan gap exists: Democrats and Democratic leaners are much more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say that there is a lot of work to be done on this front. This is a topic that is worth continuing to study and debate in the United States and around the world.