Wear can wear the trousers – but are we truly equal?

February 7, 2013 § 2 Comments

Parisian women are finally, legally, allowed to wear trousers after the French government overturned a 213-year-old ban on the fairer sex wearing the traditionally male attire.

The law, which was imposed in November 1800 stated that women required permission of local police to “dress like a man” and don trousers. Minister of Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has said that in current times the now defunct law is “incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men that are written into the Constitution and in France’s European commitments.”

Although the original law was intended to prevent women doing certain jobs, the fashion-forward women of France’s capital have long since ignored the ruling.

Women first donned trousers with regularity during the late 1800s, finding them a more comfortable alternative to skirts and dresses but they did not really because a fashion item for women until French designer Andre Courreges began manufacturing trousers in the 1950s and 1960s.

While this seemingly silly law has now been overturned it should act as a reminder that there remain other areas of society where women continue to be restricted. The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland last October has once again sparked debate about the country’s anti-abortion laws, which force thousands of women to travel to England to have the procedure.

At present the only time an abortion can be allowed is if the pregnancy presents a “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life. The Irish Government has proposed new legislation, which is widely thought will legalise abortions for women feeling suicidal, though will not extend to cases of rape or foetal anomalies that pose no risk to the mother.

Although the abortion debate is no longer needed in England (abortion was legalised in 1967), other debates rage on. The Church of England faced controversy and criticism last November after it failed to pass measures that would have allowed women to become bishops. The long awaited measure was rejected by a mere six votes and has ensured that centuries of sexism within the church remain.

Outgoing bishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams who had campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote expressed his disappointment: “Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and of course it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness, that that is not the case.”

But is not all bad news for women fighting against sexism. Recent statistics have revealed that in the past academic year (2010-2011) there were more females (55%) attending university than males (45%). Research by the Higher Education Policy Institute in 2011 also showed that women are more likely to leave university with a 2:1 degree and are less likely to drop out.

The consequences of more women entering into higher education are beginning to be felt in the workplace, with figures unearthed in 2011 by Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admission Service, showing the women aged between 22-29 earn on average more per hour than their male counterparts.

And in one of the most long-overdue legislative changes in the United Kingdom, last year the government announced a new law overthrowing the rule of primogeniture, where male heirs overtake older sisters. The law, which is due to be rushed through this year, means that whether girl of boy, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s child with come to the throne.

Undoubtedly things have improved since women won the right to vote on the same terms as men in 1928. And though recent positive changes in education and within the workplace are an improvement to women’s position in society, there is a long way to go before gender equality is truly equal.

Originally published for Mouth London.

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§ 2 Responses to Wear can wear the trousers – but are we truly equal?

  • It is incredible that those antiquated laws lasted this long, we certainly have more choice and freedom than women of previous generations but a recent study here in Australia still highlighted the imbalance between men and women’s wages. Equal pay for equal work is all we’re asking.

    • A similar article was published in the UK stating the female graduates are still earning significantly less than their male counterparts. Seems that in many ways we’ve not come that far from what women tried to change in the 1960s.

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