Austerity is not gender neutral. The Labour Party’s analysis indicates that 86% of the burden of austerity since 2010 has fallen on women; not only through attacks on services for women and girls such as those experiencing domestic violence, but cuts affecting all aspects of women’s lives.
Tory policies have left many women in dreadful situations – unable to make their wages stretch far enough, they are forced to turn to foodbanks in ever higher numbers. School holidays mean holiday hunger for many families. Many women, some juggling caring for children and supporting older relatives with multiple paid jobs, are exhausted. Women are left with no choice but to stay in exploitative relationships because they have nowhere else to go. Women at university are in huge debt, while WASPI women are plunged into poverty. Hate crime such as Islamophobia is on the rise, leaving BAME women facing multiple forms of discrimination and oppression.
The UN’s recent findings that the government was guilty of “systematic violations” of the rights of people with disabilities should have been a catalyst for positive change, but the Tories have simply dismissed them. In contrast, the last Labour Party manifesto offered real hope to millions of women, with transformative policies. A £10 per hour minimum wage, investment in housing and childcare provision, and bolstering rights at work are policies which would change many people’s lives for the better. Ending student fees and lifting the public sector pay cap would enable women to reach their full potential, and to continue to continue to play a vital role in public services, after their tireless efforts in the forefront of the fight against austerity.
There is a huge surge of interest in politics, with the Labour Party now the largest left-of-centre political party in Europe. People want to be involved, to campaign and to build a more just society. Ensuring that women from all backgrounds are heard, and that their priorities are central to debate, is essential. This not only benefits women, but the whole movement. Not all Labour Party structures yet facilitate engagement and support people in their efforts to be more active, but members are now demanding change to ensure that the party becomes genuinely democratic - and they are organising for that change, including through initiatives like Labour Women Leading
We are however profoundly disappointed that the arrangements for this year’s Labour Party’s Women’s Conference have been badly communicated. It does not have the resources and standing that it needs. It cannot consider resolutions and has no mechanism to impact on the main conference. We hope that this will be addressed next year and that Jean Crocker and Teresa Clark - both of whom are also backed by both Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy - are elected to the Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee to help ensure this happens.
The NEC’s recent decision to make nearly 50 of Labour’s top target seats women only shortlists is great news. The left now has to provide support and encouragement to women who will argue for policies which address the core concerns of women in those constituencies and across the country. The recent general election saw some outstanding women elected, and they need to be joined by many more. If this opportunity is not taken, we will let down the millions of women who need urgent and radical change.
Our politics looks to tackle economic injustice, to engage with people living on working-class estates, trapped in insecure work, and who feel that they have been ignored too often by politicians of all parties in the past. Women now make up the majority of Labour’s supporters, and their voice matters. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, party policies have broad popular appeal. We need to involve women in campaigning and to empower them to take up leadership roles at all levels.
A number of activists who support the party’s policies have been developing the Labour Women Leading network, to enable women to share experiences and provide mutual support. Critically, we want to ensure that women understand party structures and can play a full role across the movement. A very successful event was held in the spring, and there will be a fringe meeting in Brighton over conference weekend, with leading women MPs and trades unionists speaking.
Change is in the air across Britain. Women are currently involved in disputes such as the BA Mixed Fleet, the McDonald’s strike and the campaign against the public sector pay cap. We have a proud history of tackling sexism and discrimination in our movement, and we are fighting to ensure that before long there will be a Labour Government in power which will deliver genuine empowerment, justice and equality.
Labour Women Leading’s fringe meeting will take place from 5.30 pm till 7.15 pm on 23 September at the Brighthelm Centre, North Road, BN1 1YD. Speakers include MPs Diane Abbott, Cat Smith and Emma Dent Coad as well as former NUT general secretary Christine Blower, barrister and activist Liz Davies and Labour NEC member Claudia Webbe.
Photo: Julian Stallabrass
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