The History Of Women


This is our story. A story of our innate lioness, laced with independence, bravery, strength and grace. The females – mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers.  

Throughout the ages, women have left behind a trail of undying pride and prejudice. 


The first-wave feminist movement: 


The first-wave feminism during the 19th century focused on gender equality such as; the right to vote as well as legal obstacles which hindered a women's participation in the workforce.  


The workforce: 


Since ancient times women have worked in the agricultural industry. After the industrial revolution (late 18th century) woman took jobs in coal mining (above ground) and in factories. Pregnant women attended worked up until the day they gave birth and were expected to return to work as soon as they were physically fit to do so. In 1891, a law passed which required women to take four weeks of unpaid maternity leave from factory work, many women could not afford this, making this law impossible to enforce.


Women also worked as hawkers (traders) who sold produce, flowers and other market goods. Piecework, another job opportunity, involved needlework (weaving, embroidery, winding wool or silk) other jobs included; domestic servants, teachers, dressmakers, millinery and tailoring. 


Woman were excluded from well-paid and high-status professions due to a lack of access to territory education and therefore, women were prohibited to work in medicine, law, politics and government and were forbidden the right to vote. 


Due to first-wave feminist movement, by 1918, the Representation of the People Act allowed women over the age of 30 who were householders or married to a householder to vote. By 1928, women over the age of 21 were given the same voting rights as men. 


Through the phases:

Throughout the 19th century, four significant phases took place which shaped the workforce for women to where it is today:   


1) The “independent female worker” (1890-1930): women were typically young and unmarried, they were uneducated and mainly worked in clerical positions, as teachers, in textile manufacturing and as domestic servants. However, upon marriage women were often forced out of the work force due to “the marriage bar”, which denied employment for married women.  

2) The ‘transition era” (1930-1950): during this time there was a significant influx of single and married women participating in the work force as well as an increase in women occupying more high-status and steady jobs. This was due to the withdrawal of “the marriage bar”, accompanied by a greater demand for clerical positions and an increase in the number of women graduating from high school.  

3) The “roots of the revolution” (1950-1970): during this time, woman begun to soar as more and more graduated from college and were successfully working through their marriages in "pink-collar jobs" as secretaries, teachers, nurses and librarians. 

4) The “quiet revolution” (1970s - to date): as silent warriors women became increasingly educated as they advanced in tertiary education systems, which allowed them to enter previously prohibited professions such as; medicine, law, dental and business.


Equal pay: 


After the industrial revolution, wage-labour became increasingly validated. However, women were often paid less than men for the same labour. The principle of equal pay arose at the start of the first wave feminism, this drive towards equal pay was largely driven by 19th century trade union activism in industrial countries. (trade unions = protect labours by bargaining with employers to improve the working conditions of employment). By 1970 the UK introduced the Equal Pay Act which refers to the legal requirement for men and women to be paid equally for work that is the same or of equal value. In more recent years European trade unions continue to advocate equal pay and have exerted pressure on states and employers to progress towards this direction of equality.  


The gender pay gap: 


Reflects the overall work force profile between men and women. The gender pay gap is different to equal pay in that it refers to the position (job role) of women in the work force hierarchy, this includes matters such as the number of women in comparison to men who occupy junior or senior roles within the labour market. Therefore, an organisation that predominantly has men at senior levels and women in junior roles will have a gender pay gap.  


There are many factors which contribute to the current gender pay gap in the work force today:  


Occupational segregation: more men are employed in higher paid industries, such as mathematics and computer science as well as dangerous and well-paid industries such as mining, construction and manufacturing. While more women are employed in lower paid industries, such as the service industry and clerical jobs. There is an exception in chemistry as women within this field earn more than their male colleagues. 

Vertical segregation: within industries and occupations, majority of men are in senior positions while more women employees are in junior positions.  

Ineffective equal pay legislation (the legal requirement for men and women to be paid equally for performing the same work).  

Women’s overall paid working hours: The phenomenon of lower wages due to childbearing has been termed the motherhood penalty. In traditional roles, women are expected to leave the work force (maternity leave) and after birth the mother takes on the main responsibility of housework and child care, which leaves the mother with less available time to attend work and earn wages. Overtime they will begin to fall behind in today's competitive work force due to a lack of work experience as a result of working fewer hours than men. Motherhood can also affect job choices of women as they may accept lower paying jobs due to increased flexibility compared to higher paying jobs to orientate more time towards child care. 

Barriers for women to entry into the labour market: education level and single parenting. 


The impact of the gender pay gap:  


Pensions: In comparison to men, women earn less throughout their lifetime and are therefore entitled to less pension. This results in more women aged 65 and older to face poverty in old age than fellow elderly men. 


 Gender equality awareness:  


Civil society organisations (non-State, not-for-profit, voluntary entities formed by people in the social sphere that are separate from the State and the market.) are continuously creating awareness campaigns to increase the public's attention on matters such as equal pay and the gender pay gap. Awareness activities include the “equal pay day” and the “equal pay for equal work” movement. In 2006 the “Global Gender Gap Report” was first published by the World Economic Forum. The Global Gender Gap Index is an index designed to measure gender equality.  


The second-wave feminist movement: 


The second-wave feminism during the 19th century focused on a wider range of issues such as; sexuality, reproductive rights, domestic violence, marital rape and divorce law. 


Marriage and divorce:  


Upon marriage, a woman inevitably became the owned property of her husband. Marital rape was legal, although contraception and abortion were illegal, leading to forced sex and unwanted pregnancies. Men were given legal authority to divorce their wives; however, women had no right under any circumstances to leave their husband. In 1857 the Matrimonial Causes Act, gave women the right to divorce. Although women who wanted to divorce their husbands not only had to prove adultery but additional faults which included, cruelty, rape and incest. In 1923, a private members' bill allowed women to divorce due to adultery alone, however it still needed to be proven. In 1937, the law was changed and divorce was permitted on other grounds including drunkenness, insanity and desertion. The big change came in 1969, when the Divorce Reform Act was passed, allowing couples to divorce if a marriage had irretrievably broken down, without having to prove any "fault" had been made by either spouse. Divorced was granted if the couple had been separated for two years or after five years if only one of them wanted a divorce. However, it was not until 1984 that the bar on divorcing before 3 years of marriage had elapsed and was reduced to 1 year. 


Marital rape: 


Before the 1970s, very few legal systems allowed for the prosecution of rape within marriage. However, due to the second-wave feminist movement, most Western countries begun to acknowledge the woman's right to all matters relating to her body, known as self-determination. By the late 20th century onwards most countries criminalized marital rape. However, in certain countries marital rape is still legal, and even where it is illegal it is infrequently reported or prosecuted. In various countries, married women cannot stop unwanted pregnancies, due to the lack of availability of modern contraception as well as the need for married women to seek legal permission from their husband for contraception and abortion. Therefore, marriage allows for not only forced sex, but also forced pregnancy, and in some of these countries' pregnancy and childbirth remain increasingly fatal because of the lack of adequate medical care.   


Domestic violence:  


Because of activists in the second-wave feminist movement, and the local law enforcement agencies that they worked with, by 1982 three hundred shelters and forty-eight states agreed to work together to provide protection and services for women who had been abused by men in their lives. However, some women, in parts of the world, still have virtually no protection in law or in practice, against domestic violence within marriage. It is also nearly impossible for these women to get out of abusive relationships, as abusers are protected by claims of possession and entitlement, due to longstanding cultural and marital rights.   


Birth control:  


The Food and Drug Administration passed their approval for the use of birth control in 1960, thereafter liberal feminists took action in creating workshops which brought attention to issues such as sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and safe abortion, with the goal to promote conscious raising among sexually active women. The widespread use of the birth control pill by the 1970s made postponing pregnancy socially acceptable even while married which allowed women the luxury of engaging in education and work.