Survey for Women of the World festival also reveals half of women receive unwanted sexual contact or advances

Seven out of 10 women in the UK have experienced unwanted sexual comments in a public place, with almost half of working women receiving such comments during their employment, a survey has found.

Half of the women also reported receiving unwanted sexual contact or advances in a public place, according to a poll commissioned for the London Southbank Centre’s Women of the World (Wow) festival to mark International Women’s Day on Tuesday.

As the sixth Wow festival brings together thousands of women and girls, the survey of 1,000 adults found that more than half of women think the pay gap between men and women will take longer than a decade to close.

Overall, people are generally more positive about the prospects of young women compared with their mothers and grandmothers, than that of young men compared with their fathers. Two-thirds of women (69%) feel they will personally have a better life than their parents, though this was the case for only 56% of Generation Y women, or Millennials.

Three-quarters of those surveyed believed it would take more than 10 years to see an equal number of male and female judges, chief executives, MPs or engineers, with one-quarter believing the gender gap would not close for at least 20 years.

On equal pay, almost half (48%) of women questioned said they lacked confidence to ask for a pay rise, compared with less than one-third (31%) of men. Four out of 10 were not confident enough to even ask for a pay audit.
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Society was seen as the biggest barrier to gender equality by 59% of those questioned, with employers seen as the second biggest barrier, by 38%, men, by 29%, the government (24%) and women (14%) .

However, there was a perception that, overall, men were less sexist than 20 years ago. Just 27% of women thought men were sexist compared with 64% in 1996.

The number of women who considered themselves to be feminist was 34%, although the figure was much higher among those who were university educated.

The Wow festival will bring together everyday women and girls alongside politicians, business leaders, artists, activists and refugees to discuss gender equality and seek ways to close the gender gap.

Commenting on the survey,the Southbank Centre’s artistic director, Jude Kelly, said: “I founded Women of the World to celebrate the achievements of girls and women and to use that positive spirit to be frank about the complex reasons why inequality is still propagated and tolerated.


“Right across the globe sexual harassment, from the jocular to the violent, is still a daily issue for many women, along with poor representation of women in public life, gender pay gap, media bias, unequal domestic demands and a host of other issues that prevent half the human race achieving their potential.

“Our poll also shows that progress has been made and there are now men as well as women committed to equality and seeking ways to achieve it.”

Three-quarters of working women had experienced difficulties in balancing work and family life, which rose to a 87% for working women with children. More than half of women, 56%, said they were taken less seriously at work because they were women.

However, most people felt confident enough to deal with incidents of sexism, though generally men more so than women. Almost nine out of 10 (86%) said they felt confident to reprimand family, friends of work colleagues who made a sexist comment.

Most people (75%) also felt able to ask for flexible working arrangements. And only 16% still believed in the traditional gender roles of a man earning the money and the woman being at home.

Wow was launched in 2011 and is now the largest women’s festival in the world, with meetings across five continents and involving more than 1 million people. Wow 2016 , which runs from 8-13 March, will focus on heroines as well as violence, alcoholism, rape, trans activism and criminal justice.