"Gender inequality? That's just women learning to lean in a little bit more and growing those nails to scratch the glass ceiling above them!"
Yes, such comments do form part of the dinner table conversation and yes, it's 2014. Even if people's ignorance of women's inequality only stretches to the realms of women attempting to climb the career ladder, for it to be trivialized and scoffed at shows how some people are missing the point of equal representation benefiting society as a whole.
Whilst this might be a minority viewpoint, it feeds into a wider complacent attitude that has been brewing over the past few years. Whether it's public funding cuts to a vital women's sector or just general annoyance at an all female panel for a mainstream comedy show, our economic policies and cultural psyche against female spaces have been shaping a widespread belief that women have achieved equality and there is no longer a need to address this issue.
But this week's timely publication of Europe's biggest ever survey on violence against women, is a stark warning for urgent action. What particularly stands out is the fact that countries like the UK, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, which often get commended for gender equality have the highest number of incidences of physical and sexual violence against women in the EU. It's time for the complacency to stop. The findings undermine the projected sense of gender equality. It also raises a more uncomfortable question, does the perception of gender equality contribute to violence against women?
Calls to implement the council of Europe's Istanbul Convention, which focusses on standards for women's services have been echoed by the publishers of the findings of this week's survey. Whilst the UK signed the treaty in 2012, they fell short of ratifying it. Not only has this stalled the convention from becoming legally binding across the member states but it also means that the devastating impact of spending cuts on the women's sector, which saw a staggering 31% cut to the sexual and domestic violence sector, will not be reversed.
The need for women's centers delivering life-saving services to some of the most marginalised and oppressed women in our society is now more important than ever before. The extensive cases of under-reported violence against women is not simply pointing to a culture of silence but institutional failings. With many women's centers facing closure or an uncertain future, the pressure falls on police services to provide niche support services along side justice. But that's clearly not effective.
Whether it's ensuring Southall Black Sisters never teether on the brink of closure or we lend our endorsement to creative and inspiring new projects like Rooms of Our Own that are navigating their start-up during hostile financial times, the women's sector needs wider public support whilst the state conveniently neglects it. It's not merely hyperbole. These female only safe spaces created by the women's sector saves lives. Whether it's rape centres, refuges, women's health centers or services for trafficked women, vulnerable and subjugated women in the UK have hope and a potential lifeline.
As nationwide activities take place to mark International Women's day, a refocus is needed to remind local authorities, Ministers and policy makers that the erosion of the social welfare state supported with policy changes are going to continue to adversely impact how we take action against violence against women and undermine gender equality which in turn undermines wider social equality.