The Changes For Women Since England Last Reached The World Cup Final
An England football team last won the World Cup in 1966 – a time when women were banned from playing competitive football.
But 57 years later, it’s not the men’s football team leading England into the finals, it’s the Lionesses, who beat Australia’s Matildas 3 – 1 on Wednesday to enter the Women’s World Cup final for the first time.
With a record-breaking number of viewers expected to tune in to watch the final on Sunday, it’s clear that the Lionesses and women’s football are inspiring people across the world.
So much has changed for women in England since the last time an English football team were in the world cup. We explore just a few ways women’s rights have changed in England since 1966:
1. Women are now paid equally to men for the same work (unless they manage the national team)
In the year that Elvis Presley (The Wonder of You) and Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water) reached number one in the UK, 1970 was also the year that the Equal Pay Act was passed.
This established the principle that men and women should be paid equally for the same work, or work of a broadly similar nature.
This was sparked by the Ford machinists’ strike in Dagenham in 1968, where 850 female sewing machinists went on strike over equal pay. They were being paid 15 percent less than the rate paid to men who were working at the same level. They also disputed that some of their jobs were classed as unskilled, a classification that led them to be paid less.
Inspired by this example, women trade unionists founded the National Joint Action Campaign Committee for Women’s Equal Rights. In 1969, the group organised an Equal Pay demonstration in Trafalger Square, which was attended by 1,000 protesters.
The combination of this protest and the result of the Ford machinists’ strike led directly to the creation of Equal Pay Act.
Despite this Act, research on women’s lifetime earnings by the University of Cologne found that women need nine years of prospective experience to reach the expected wage levels that men anticipate to receive upon graduation. The researchers suggest negotiation training would be an effective way to target this.
As for England’s national football teams, Gareth Southgate Is reportedly paid £5 million each year for managing the team. His team has made the 2018 World Cup semi-final in Russia and one (losing) final in the 2020 Euros.
Sarina Wiegman, who guided the Netherlands to victory in the 2017 Euros and a World Cup final two years later, and has since won the 2022 Euros with the Lionesses and is now the first England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey to reach a World Cup final is reportedly paid £400,000.
2. Women have more reproductive rights
While the contraceptive pill was launched in England in 1961, it wasn’t available to non-married women until 1967.
The impact of the pill becoming freely available for women can’t be underestimated. It played an important role in the emergence of women’s liberation, giving them greater sexual freedom and reproductive autonomy. It helped to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, which consequently reduced the number of deaths and complications from illegal abortions.
In a Canadian academic review, researcher Pamela Verma Liao writes the pill was important for women’s rights as it “separated sexual practice from conception, forcing re-assessment and re-evaluation of social, political, and religious viewpoint.”
The researchers write: “Women’s bodies have forever been manipulated to control fertility—whether effective or not, or safe or not. As we celebrate the more than half a century of the pill, we can reflect on its legacy and its importance for patients, their families, and the planet”
On the same year, the Abortion Act legalised abortion in the Britain for women who were up to 24 weeks pregnant.
The act stated that an abortion is legal if two consenting doctors agreed that continuing the pregnancy would be harmful to the woman’s mental or physical heath, or to the child’s mental or physical health. This act has been unsuccessfully challenged several times by so-called ‘pro-life’ organisations which have tried to restrict access to abortion.
3. Women are now leaders of Fortune 500 companies
It wasn’t until 1997 – the same year that Buffy the Vampire Slayer started, Princess Diana died, and, of course, the year Spice World brought Girl Power to cinemas – Marjorie Scardino became the first woman to head a FTSE 100 company, as the CEO of Pearson.
Now, for the first time in history, women now run more than 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies. In 2023, 52 companies out of the 500 are led by female CEOS – an increase of 18 percent from last year.
However, in the UK’s FTSE 100 this figure is still just 7 percent, and there are still almost as many individuals named Andrew as there are women.
Business schools have a role to play to improve C-Suite representation, and the incoming MBA class at The Wharton School has over 50% women students for the third consecutive year. But research from ESSEC Business School reveals that workplaces need to start adapting work to the multiple roles women have in everyday life, rather than just simply trying to promote women into senior leadership roles.
4. Women now have more representation in politics
Thanks to the suffragettes, women over 30 were granted the right to vote in 1918, which was also the year that the House of Commons was opened up to female MPs.
In 1968, two years after England’s last World Cup final Barbara Castle became Britain’s First Secretary of State – the first, and only, women to ever hold the position.
Then, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first female prime minister. When first elected as an MP in 1959, Thatcher was one of just 25 women in a House of 605 men. Since then, Britain has had two more female prime ministers.
Political representation has come a long way in the past 55 years. However, at the time of writing (August 2023), women make up just 31 percent of parliamentarians. There are just 225 female MPs in the House of Commons and 237 in the House of Lords.
5. Women’s sports participation has grown substantially
With the Lionesses leading England into the finals of the Women’s World Cup against Spain, it seems unthinkable that the Women’s Football Association (WFA) was only formed in 1969 and the first WFA cup final was played in Mexico City in 1971.
The Football Association had banned women’s football in 1921, which up until this point had been running almost parallel to the men’s game. The FA declared the sport “quite unsuitable for females” and this ban wasn’t lifted for 51 years.
Football wasn’t the only sport women had been banned from. Even within the past 50 years, women were often not featured in major sports events.
Women weren’t allowed to compete in the Olympics until 1900, but even by the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, just 26 percent of the athletes participating were women.
The number of women competing in the Olympic Games has increased every time. By 1996 in Atlanta, 34 percent of the athletes participating were women, and in the most recent Olympic games in Tokyo in 2020, 48 percent of the athletes were women.
We will have to wait and see what these figures look like for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Clearly the Lionesses’ success is a historical triumph, not just for football, but for women’s rights over the past 57 years. For many, the Lionesses represent the societal change, empowerment and hope for the future of women’s sports. The unprecedented global media attention will undoubtedly bring more women’s sports into the media spotlight.
Women’s rights have come a long way since the last time England won the final of the World Cup, but there is still so much more to be accomplished. Hopefully the next 57 years will see an even larger jump towards women’s equality.
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