In 1996, the Spice Girls made history as the words, “So, tell me what you want, what you really, really want,” blasted into ear drums around the world. The song put “girl power” on the map, or at least in the charts, with a catchy anthem that was impossible to ignore.  

It turns out “What Do You Want?” proved to be a pivotal question for women that year (although the answer sounded nothing like “zigazig-ah"). 

Between 1995 and 1996, the UK’s Women’s Communications Centre distributed postcards to women across the country with a simple, open-ended question: “What do you want?” 10,000 women answered the call and posted their answers back.

The result? A bold collage of women’s hopes and dreams — from the personal to the political — that offered a powerful vision for society.

Twenty years on, the study is back to find out what women British women want in the 21st century. What Women Want 2.0 has taken this question across the country, assisted by the Women's Equality Party, whose nationwide branches have been canvassing women right on their doorstep. And now it's your turn. 

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Need some inspiration? Travel back in time to find out how much has changed since 1996. Here are some of the most common answers from the original survey: 

“No more degradation of women by Page 3 porn.” 

For many across the country, the notorious “Page 3” of the Sun newspaper typified the idea that a woman was only as good as her body. The end of objectification was a common goal for the women of 1996 who expressed a desire to, in one respondent’s words, “feel that I have a useful part to play in society other than that of a sexual object.” 

But in 2016 Page 3 is no more — a major victory achieved in the two decades since the survey. After years of campaigning and a petition that gained more 200,000 signatures and widespread media coverage, the Sun decided to scrap its sexist third page in 2015. Better late than never. Still, the battle is not over. The interim results from the 2016 study show women are still outraged at the persistent objectification of female bodies — from body-shaming advertising to online pornography.

“I don’t want to take over the world. I just want an equal share in it.” 

Image: What Women Want

Sadly, when it comes to political power, women are still left wanting more. A common theme in the 1995 study was a desire for equal representation, calling for 50:50 representation in local, national and international political institutions. At the time of the survey, women made up only 11.3% of parliamentarians worldwide. As of June 2016, this number had only reached 22.8%.  

On the world stage, the UK is still crawling towards gender equality in politics — only 29.6% of MPs are female, placing the country 49th in global rankings.

Read More: Nearly Half of Female Politicians Are Threatened with Death, Rape, Beatings

“I want to be able to walk alone where and when I want.” 

Image: What Women Want

Public harassment is still a reality for women in the UK. A scroll through “Everyday Sexism,” a digital platform dedicated to cataloguing incidents of sexual harassment, will quickly reveal the scale of the problem. In 2012, a YouGov poll showed that 43% of women aged between 18 and 34 had been harassed in public, and in 2016, the number of recorded sexual offences on trains or at stations rose by 25%.

Read More: More Than Half of All Women in the UK Are Sexually Harassed at Work

“End to tampon tax.” 

Image: What Women Want

A petition calling on the UK government to “Stop taxing periods. Period,” succeeded in answering women's demands. The petition gained 320,000 signatures, building momentum against the misguided luxury tax on essential menstrual products dubbed “the tampon tax.” It was a demand the government could not dismiss and in March 2016, former Prime Minister David Cameron announced the tax would be scrapped — although women are still waiting for this law to come into force. Periods are not a luxury, so why should any woman have to pay the price for her body? 

“I would like to be paid at the going rate for my job. After 10 years, I am paid 70% of the appropriate salary.” 

Image: What Women Want

Unequal pay is one of the most persistent obstacles to gender equality. In the UK, the average woman earns 13.9% less than the average man for full time work, and 18.1% if you include part time work. This gap increases for women from ethnic minorities. Progress toward parity is slow. Equal Pay Day 2016 was only a day later than it was last year, highlighting the “glacial” pace of change. At this rate, researchers estimate the gender pay gap will not close until 2069 — almost 100 years after the Equal Pay Act became law. 

Read More: Women Across Europe Are Walking Out of Work Early to Demand Equal Pay

“Basic human rights for everyone.” 

Image: What Women Want

Women’s hopes and dreams for society go beyond the limits of their gender. The surveys rich and varied results show that the respondents were concerned with far more than just so-called “women’s issues,” and their vision for the world extended beyond national borders. Not only did the women surveyed want to see change at home, they wanted decisive change on the world stage too: 

“Fairness to refugees in all aspects of their lives.”

“Stop the mutilation of female genitals, there is no satisfactory reason behind this.” 

“An end to people starving and in want.” 

“The right to clean water everywhere.” 

These quotes only offer a glimpse of the eclectic range of perspectives captured by the groundbreaking survey. The answers were far from homogenous, coloured by individual outlooks, contexts and needs, but the recurring themes offer a powerful statement of intent. Sadly, too many of the hopes shared have not been realised. 

Sue Tibballs, the founder of What Women Want 2.0 who led the 1996 survey, says:  "It is striking how similar women's wants are 20 years ago and today. The biggest difference is in women's tone of voice. Women today feel they were promised equality and it isn't being delivered."

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party agrees. “It is appalling how little ground has been covered in twenty years since women in the first survey sought equal pay and workplace opportunities, an end to sexism and safer streets.”

In the simple words of one respondent: women still want “gender equality everywhere ASAP.”  

So if you’re a woman in the UK, you have the chance to add your voice. Take action now to take part in What Women Want 2.0 and answer the question: “What Do You Want?”  

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All quotes are cited from "Vision and Values:  the What Women Want Social Survey". To read the full 1996 report, visit


Demand Equity

20 Years Ago, British Women Told Us What They Really, Really Wanted. Did Anyone Listen?

By Yosola Olorunshola