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What now for the rights of women?

Debate chaired by Polly Toynbee on the state of women's rights, a century after the suffragettes

Page from Olive Wharry's scrapbook, 1913

Page from suffragette Olive Wharry's scrapbook of 1913

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Women's rights in the 21st century: How far still to go?

A century since the height of the women's suffrage movement, and despite much subsequent legislation, many women feel that their rights remain under threat at the workplace and in the home.

This debate, led by Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, examined the issue with the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commision Nicola Brewer; the novelist Tahmima Anam; and the chair of the British Youth Council Emily Beardsmore.

Brewer drew attention to some of the areas in which she feels inequality still persists, such as the lower level of pensions paid to women, and problems encountered by working women who get pregnant. She talked not about a 'glass ceiling', but a 'reinforced concrete ceiling', and called for renewed efforts to improve women's pay and conditions.

Beardsmore gave the student-age perspective (she started an engineering degree but gave it up). She reported a generally pretty positive feeling among her female peers about equality and opportunity, and talked about the complex nature and reputation of modern feminism. However, more empowerment is needed, she said.

Anam gave the viewpoint from a developing country with many traditional attitudes about women's roles, and many consequent inequalities: Bangladesh. She read from Ladyland, a novel by a little-known Bangladeshi female writer which described an imaginary country where roles were reversed. She also talked about the role of religious rhetoric and of poverty in preventing moves to equality.

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