How women figure on parties’ websites

What happens when you decide to search the websites of the political parties in a bid to explore their proposals in more detail?

As the search button connects with the search engine, the wheels of the election machine are set in motion. ‘Will you be voting for ‘us’ in the next general election?’ is the question the accidental and/or intentional visitor is asked. The ‘skip to the main page’ link is suitably hidden in its small, grey font in the bottom corner. But are the sites appealing to women?

Given the lack of firm commitment to one party or another by many women – a Mumsnet survey showed 6 out of 10 women could still change their minds – how can women make their choice?

When we look at website front pages, the images that momentarily take over our screens give us an inkling of how women and gender equality are portrayed in this political arena.

A small child waves his Vote Labour sticker as his young, clean-looking and smiling dad cradles him in his child carrier.

The Conservatives opt for a more traditional shot of their leader working a crowd with Samantha Cameron in tow.

The Liberal Democrats have a weekly changing image: today it’s the NHS showing men in ties shaking hands with female hospital staff.

The Green Party also distances itself from the personality cult of its leader, choosing colourful doors, pound notes and a ballot box to signal their housing, economic and Register To Vote campaigns.

What can be said about UKIP? All those who feel nostalgic about the politics of the past will find the high testosterone levels hugely comforting.

If you are worried that women had dropped off the agenda, there have been plenty of party appeals to us. In February, Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party,  wrote a short piece highlighting the need for a democracy for women and launched the Labour women minibus, while Nick Clegg declared his ambition to help 1 million more women into work by 2020.

The Conservative Women’s Organisation is adamant that their party’s manifesto will support us, whether we choose to go out to work or stay at home to raise children. The Green Party candidates Sarah Cope and Clare Phipps are campaigning to lift the ban on MP job-sharing. UKIP is at last trying to counter all that negative press coverage and the scores of women’s groups who stand against them, by launching a series of policies last week under the title Believing in Britain, believing in Britain’s women.

Despite these releases, the fact that we either have to dig into past news releases, visit the Party Women’s Groups or search for the needle in the haystack for mentions of women is concerning. Despite a desire to woo female voters, women are just not part of mainstream electoral discourse and there is no mention of women on the party websites.

So what has changed since the beginning of the year, when Nick Clegg was said to be courting us, Ed Miliband to have (almost) won us over and the Tories were said to suffer from a ‘woman problem’ ?.

Despite some of the policies speaking directly to women, there is a strong chance we are bordering on the invisible once again.

See our next instalment for an in-depth analysis of the party manifestos

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