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It’s the 21st Century, and some people still believe women are inferior

Peter Harrison

Published: Updated:

A recent poll that asked more than 17,500 people if men and women should enjoy equal rights, found that the majority said “yes”. But while this is obviously the right outcome, it is frankly shocking that the Ipsos MORI poll also found that 20 percent of those questioned said they believed women were inferior to men.

This latest revelation follows the recent outburst by Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke at the European Parliament in which he said that women “must earn less” than men because they are “weaker”, “smaller” and “less intelligent”.

Of course, these comments and the findings of the poll are significant now because they are so absurd, and it is right that news organizations have highlighted them as such. But how depressing it is to feel that there are still people out there that even think this way.

Responding to the findings of the poll, Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Director at Ipsos MORI said: “It’s encouraging that the vast majority of both men and women around the world believe in equal opportunity... but at the same time most still believe that true equality of rights is not here yet,”

It should be noted that the majority of those who said women were inferior to men, were those surveyed in Russia, China and India. But let’s not be fooled that this is not a global issue – in the same report UN Women were quoted as describing the 24 percent gender pay gap as “the biggest robber” of women. The World Economic Forum said in 2016 that women would not reach economic equality for another 170 years.

Women face judgements and opinions that men do not even have to consider. If a woman with children chooses to pursue her career, she is asked “what about her children”, if she puts her career on hold because of her children she is asked “is that a good idea?”. When a woman is friendly toward men she might worry that her kindness is misinterpreted as a come on. We pay women compliments on their looks rather than their achievements.

It just seems odd to me that women are still earning less, are less well represented in senior roles, faced with far more prejudice and exposed to harassment and attitudes where they are considered somehow second rate citizens

Peter Harrison

The mindset

It’s not just an economic factor at play. There is still a mindset that somehow men are the more capable, superior gender. Socially I still hear people talking about women drivers as though they are somehow inferior. But the truth – certainly in the UK – is the complete opposite. So much so, in fact, that the insurance premiums for female motorists were less than men’s because they had less accidents and were served fewer penalties for motoring offences.

In October last year, I wrote about my despair at the news that the UN was to make the fictitious comic book superhero Wonder Woman the new Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. It struck me at the time that there were surely many real women worthy of the title, not least any mother.

In August 2016 the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said women’s naked breasts were more representative of France than the burkini. He said the burkini represented the enslavement of women. It was staggering to me, that he did not see the irony in his statement. It should surely be up to the woman as to how much, or little of their body that they show?

Throughout my life I have encountered both men and women that have left me feeling deeply inspired. So I wonder when I hear comments like those I mention, what these people must think of their own wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters or friends?

Women don’t need men like me to speak on their behalf and I would not even begin to condescend them with the idea that they need my support or backing to help highlight the need for greater equality. But it just seems odd to me at this point that women are still earning less, are less well represented in senior roles, faced with far more prejudice and exposed to harassment and attitudes where they are considered somehow second rate citizens.

While International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to mark the achievements of women, we should really be asking ourselves why in 2017 there is a need for such an occasion. Women are not weak, they are no less clever – so why do they get treated so differently?
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Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist whose career spans three decades, working for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He's covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from health issues and farming in England, to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior editor with Al Arabiya English and tweets @PhotoPJHarrison.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.