THE CHANGING ROLE OF WOMEN
In nineteenth century Britain, families were usually large
and, in most households, men, women, and children
all contributed towards the family wage. Although
they were economically very important, women in Britain had fewer
rights in law than men. Until 1857, a married woman
had no right to divorce her husband, and until 1882
a woman's earnings, along with any property or money
she brought to the marriage, automatically belonged
to her husband.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
an increasing number of women campaigned and demonstrated
for greater rights and, in particular, the right to
vote. However, the protests and demonstrations were
halted during the First World War, as women joined
in the war effort and took on a much greater variety
of work than they had done before. Women (over the
age of 30) were finally given the right to vote and
to stand for election for Parliament after the War
had ended in 1918. It wasn't until 1928 that women
received voting rights at the same age as men.
Despite these improvements, women still faced discrimination
in the workplace. When a woman married, it was quite
common for her to be asked to leave work by her employer.
Many jobs were closed to women, and women found it
very difficult to enter university. The 1960s and
70s saw increasing pressure from women for equal rights
and, during this period, laws were passed giving women
the right to equal pay and prohibiting employers from
discriminating against women because of their sex.
Women in Britain
Women in Britain make up 51 per cent of the
population, and 45 per cent of the workforce. Girls,
as a whole, leave school today with better qualifications
than boys, and there are now more women than men at
university. Employment opportunities for women now
are much greater than they were in the past. Although
women continue to be employed in traditionally female
areas, such as health care, teaching, secretarial,
and sales, there is strong evidence that attitudes
are changing and that women are doing a much wider
range of work than before.
Research shows that today very few people believe
that women in Britain should
stay at home and not go out to work. Today, almost
three-quarters of women with children of school age
are in paid work.
In many households, women continue to have a major share
in childcare and housework, but here too there is
evidence of greater equality, with fathers taking
an increasing role in raising the family and household
chores. Despite this progress, many argue that more
needs to be done to achieve greater equality between
women and men - particularly in the workplace.
Women in Britain
do not have the same access as men to promotion and
better- paid jobs, and the average hourly rate of
pay for women is about 20 per cent lower than it is