Virginity Tests, Period Poverty, Pay Gap, Oh My!: Feminism is still needed in the UK in 2021
Image by PatriciaMoraleda from Pixabay

As we enter into 2021, it’s important to look at the progress, regressions, and stagnant policies of the previous year. In the 21st century many people already feel like the gender battle has already been won – with female employment rates at a record high (72.4%) and the women’s vote in the UK having been achieved over 100 years ago.

However, there is still a clear need for feminism in society, as it’s an important lens to still use to critique and hold institutions accountable. With recent news of virginity tests being sold, a still existing pay gap and multiple deep-rooted stereotypes, feminism is still needed in the UK.

The problem with virginity tests

On the 27/12, the BBC reported that women are still being offered virginity tests, which are considered by WHO and the United Nations as a violation of human rights. Seven out of the sixteen clinics that were approached confirmed offering virginity testing and many others refused to comment.

These tests are evidently a complete evasion of an individual’s privacy, further entrenching outdated views on women’s virginity. Evidently, these tests are unjustifiable as this is not a health issue but rather a social and political one. What is more, these tests have no validity as the WHO reports that ‘the appearance of a hymen is not a reliable indication of intercourse and there is no known examination that can prove a history of vaginal intercourse.’  

These virginity tests are nothing but traumatising and the fact that they are legal in the UK is a fundamental human rights issue and an apparatus for upholding unwarranted patriarchal lines and power.

The WHO reports that many women are forced to do these tests. They may have been manipulated by parents, employers, or potential partners. According to the WHO, some cultures believe that ‘proof of virginity’ determines a women’s honour or value – this concept can be dangerous if supported by false virginity tests. They are also sometimes carried out on sexual assault victims to determine if rape has occurred, which once again comes with an extensive list of risks. The fraudulent tests showcase the great deal of work on women’s rights left to be done in the UK.

Combatting period poverty

Scotland is the first nation in the world to make period products free. This development is one that that other nations of the UK have failed to implement, continuously funding the circle of period poverty and stigmas. The BBC reports that 10% of women can not afford sanitary products and 15% have struggled at some point. They also estimated that these products can cost £8 a month, which is roughly equivalent to an hour’s work on minimum wage. An hour of work for something that cannot be controlled is scarcely justifiable.

Recently, the Tampon Tax has been abolished. This is a fundamental step toward reducing period poverty in the UK. Sanitary products are essential, and previously labelling these items as luxurious was sexist. The government’s recent campaign to end period poverty is one owed to the influence of feminist media, pressure groups and ideology. Clearly, the government need to be held to account by feminist thinking to ensure that UK society keeps moving in the right way towards equality.

Inequality in healthcare

Additionally, women are disadvantaged when it comes to support from health care providers. In a survey of 2,400 women, 83% felt they had experienced some form of gender discrimination in a medical setting. Many women have their health needs diminished and put down as emotional rather than physical conditions.

Illnesses specific to females such as endometriosis are often prone to neglect. This condition causes various health problems, such as agonising pain and problems with fertility. Yet, it’s reported to take 7.5 years on average to diagnose in the UK and only attracts a fifth of the research that goes into erectile dysfunction. This results in women being left untreated for this condition.

The emotional distress that would stem from an undiagnosed chronic condition is evident and thus, the lack of research and support is detrimental. This institutionalised sexism is one issue that is still directly affecting women and their health in the UK today. The fact that this is still happening shows just how important feminism still is in 2021.

Tackling the Gender Pay Gap

The pay gap is a much-disputed topic, as many believe that minimum wage legislation would have prevent this. However, it’s reported that the median salary for men is 19% higher than the wage for women. There is evidence that the pay gap is becoming smaller, yet the fact that it still exists showcases the continuing presence of sexism in the workplace.

The pay gap is not only a sign of financial inequality, but also a sign of restricted female independence. Pay gaps can mean that women may be forced to depend on somebody else for economic reassurance, perhaps a man, often preventing them from being able to work should they so desire. It also further entrenches the stereotype that women should stay in the domestic sphere whilst men are able to be the ‘bread winners.’

Long-standing issues

The figures that show how disadvantaged women are are evident. Shockingly, the Independent reports that only 1.7% of reported rapes result in prosecutions. This prevents women from reporting these crimes and receiving the justice that they deserve. In a country where 20% of women after the age of 16 are said to have been sexually assaulted (3.4 million women), it is shameful and beyond heart-breaking that this should be allowed to continue. Perhaps an educational and judicial transformation is needed to prevent sexism from getting in the way of justice.

These systems also disadvantage men. Within a stable patriarchy, men are told to be breadwinners, not show emotion and be physically strong. However, these architypes lead to problems such as men not being able to report abuse, higher suicide rates and a fear of admitting emotions. The Mankind initiative reports that there very few safe refuges, houses and supported housing facilities for men who are fleeing abuse. Despite 500,000 men suffering from partner abuse every year and 36% of male victims living in a household with children and another adult, there are only 19 organisations offer refuge or safe house provision for male victims in the UK. Additionally, Mankind states that men are less likely to report abuse.

Male victims are over twice as likely as women not to tell anyone about the partner abuse they are suffering from and only 23% will tell a person in an official position. The feminist movement aims not to put down men and ignore the issues that they face. Instead, it aims to dismantle the patriarchal structures in a world where the typecasts can negatively impact both genders. Men are often trapped in the patriarchal expectations and definitions of what it is to be a man and feminism wants to change these ideals.

Feminism is still needed in 2021 in the UK. It’s the fight for the women who are disadvantaged by the health systems, the men who are trapped in patriarchal definitions and the women who are still sexualised/abused. This is a critical lens that we should keep using in the coming year and we should keep pushing for a more equal future.