What will the parties do for women?

I was sorry to miss being at the LSE’s ‘what about women’ election debate I was meant to be at this week. I have just watched it on video and it was a great debate. You can watch the debate between Harriet Harman, Lynne Featherstone and Theresa May here. It’s a disgrace though that women (apart from the leaders’ wives) haven’t had the chance to be more prominent and at the forefront of the general election campaign as they should be. You may not get the chance to see women from the three parties debate in a high profile TV debate such as the leaders’ debates, but it’s well worth watching it via the LSE website.

Ceri Goddard of the Fawcett Society chaired the debate and all the speakers agreed that we have come a long way, but there is still a very long way to go.

Harriet Harman QC spoke very well and was the only one to get up on her feet. She stressed that women now work and still do the lion’s share of childcare and caring for older relatives. She was in a very strong position compared to the other two as she was able to cite what the Labour Party has actually done (in fact some of it’s down to her) to further our cause. Some great examples of Labour achievements for women are SureStart centres, longer maternity leave and paternity leave. There is still an unequal division of labour in the home. There is sustained systematic discrimination that means that women earn 20% less than men. Labour has taken action and through the new equalities legislation employers will be banned from having secrecy clauses. Employers will also be able to take positive action to allow them to diversify their workforce.

There has also been massive progress on domestic violence and human trafficking but there is still a very long way to go. Harriet made no bones that all public authorities in every decision they take, will have to take into account equality between men and women. This is enshrined in the Equality Act that Harriet helped to bring about and this is vital, especially with the expected cuts in public services, which will have a huge impact on women who make up the largest part of the public sector workforce. Harriet said that we could expect that there would be rows about it and if there aren’t then we’re not making any progress!

She said that the Tories ‘big society’ is a big cop out as only wives of rich businessmen would have the time to devote to running schools, police and post offices.  Lynne Featherstone chipped in that busy single mothers would have no chance of being involved in anything and that big society would need to be supported by vital services. Theresa May said that their ‘big society’ would give people more control over their lives.

Harriet went on to say that the Tory tax break for married couples would send a message to children in one parent families or whose families are separating that there is something wrong with their family and that there must be something wrong with them too.

Next Thursday I’ll be casting my vote to keep Harriet and her colleagues in a position where they can keep up the good work already done for women, there’s a lot more to do and only the Labour Party will do it!