Labour’s Gender Equality Agenda
This weekend, in Brighton, Labour’s women’s conference brings together more than 1000 women from across the Labour movement. Women from all walks of life, all ages, all parts of the country, will come together to share ideas.
There will be much that we’ll have to talk about. Thousands of new members have joined our party in recent weeks. They’ve joined because they want change.
The status quo has rarely advanced the cause of women. Traditional solutions, traditional ways of doing and viewing things have left women bearing the brunt of injustice and poverty. Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to a new, inclusive and authentic style of politics presents a real opportunity to break down old barriers and old ways of doing things, creating a new space for women inside and outside of the Labour Party.
Of course, huge strides have been made since our mothers’ and grandmothers’ day. Women do well in our schools, go to university in increasing numbers, more enter the professions and take senior roles. Our parliament contains a higher proportion of women than ever before, and our shadow cabinet for the first time ever has more women than men. But still, across the piece, women are under-represented, under- promoted and under-paid. Still women take the main responsibility for mitigating the pain of this government’s spending cuts.
Austerity has taken feminism back to basics, to fighting fundamental social and economic injustice. Women are left to cope when family incomes are shredded by insecure jobs, low pay, and cuts to tax credits. Women lose out when rights at work are under attack. Women pick up the pieces when public services are overstretched and under resourced.
The pain is not felt equally of course. Poor women, black and Asian women, older women, disabled women, women raising young children suffer the most. But what all women share is the experience of structural discrimination that continues to result in a gender pay gap of almost 20%, in women as victims in three quarters of cases of sexual and domestic abuse, in a parliament where 7 in 10 of our lawmakers are men.
The solutions that we need go beyond creating more opportunities for women; we must change the underlying drivers and attitudes that allow the continuation of gender inequality in our society.
That means active education policies that lead girls to study the subjects that deliver the best careers chances and prospects. It means deliberate fiscal choices that do not disadvantage women in households. It means transparent pay audits across all businesses, not just the largest, to expose the pay gap and work with employers to act. It means educating our young people in the equality and dignity of women and men, including through compulsory sex and relationships education. And it requires mechanisms to secure women’s place at the heart of power, as Labour’s all women shortlists have done.
The ideas put forward by female Labour activists this weekend are just the start of a wider process of reconnecting with existing and new members in our movement. This Labour Party Conference is a call to women to grasp the opportunity that a new way of doing politics brings. Change and transformation must have women at the heart of it, defining the terms.
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