What women want from the parties

The Fawcett Society’s What About Women campaign first put some pertinent questions to politicians back in March.

Our guest writer is Jessica Sinclair Taylor, campaigns assistant at The Fawcett Society

The Fawcett Society’s What About Women campaign first put some pertinent questions to politicians back in March. Their answers to our questions and their recently published manifestos have confirmed that, with some exceptions, the parties are failing to think consistently about how their policies could impact differently on women and men.

Women’s equality is dealt with in piecemeal fashion, with no party providing coherent explanations of how their policies will address persistent gender inequality – and the media focus on the leaders’ wives as political standard bearers does little to mask the conspicuous absence of women in this election.

Democracy: The Centre for Women and Democracy predicts a small increase in the number of female MPs at this election – which currently stands at just 5 per cent. Yet despite this glaring inequality, there is very little from the parties’ manifestos on what they will do to ensure our parliament is fully representative of the diversity of this country.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have failed to even acknowledge that under-representation of women and other groups is an issue.

The Economy: None of the parties deny that the next government will take office under a cloud of austerity. Women, who form the greater proportion of people living in poverty, on lower income scale and users of and workers in public services, are bound to carry the brunt of any public spending cuts.

This is why Fawcett is particularly disappointed at the marked failure of all three main parties to commit to the simple task of conducting and publishing an assessment of the likely gender impact of their deficit cutting plans.

Work: We welcome the shift from maternity leave to parental leave – although only the Liberal Democrats have thought through the transition from parental leave into properly funded early years childcare. All parties have claimed to want to value caring work, but none has properly recognised the importance of high quality affordable childcare to enable this, or that caring responsibilities are largely delivered by women for free – contributing a massive £89 billion to the UK economy.

Crime and Justice: Getting tough on violence against women is a clear vote winner; a Fawcett/Ipsos Mori survey in March revealed that 76 per cent of voters would strongly support prioritising measures to reduce violence against women. Yet only the Conservatives made a solid commitment to funding Rape Crisis Centres – and their promise of 15 new centres will still leave many women without access.

All the parties are weak on real policies to tackle the number of women who are sent to prison every year, despite the social value this could generate (£14 for every pound spent on support centred alternatives to prison).

Is it all bad? No – The Conservatives have suggested improving the police response to violence against women by ensuring all police recruits are given special training. The Liberal Democrats have the strongest policies on ensuring equal pay through gender pay audits, and say they will tackle unrealistic presentations of female beauty by banning airbrushing in advertising aimed at the young. Labour has a good track record on equality legislation, and their proposed reforms to the pensions system will mean that women who leave work to care for their grandchildren remain entitled to a basic state pension.

Fawcett has called on all parliamentary candidates to sign up to ensure deficit cutting measures are gender proofed, and we will be watching closely to see how the next government follows through on their promises to women.

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