Does Your Party Care About Women?

Isabela Avalos

I hope all of you who could have registered to vote for the General Election on 12 December 2019 and have checked the location of your polling station – don’t forget to vote!

The major parties have made this an issue election centred around Brexit. The Conservative Party and the Brexit Party are vowing to ‘get Brexit done’ (after nearly three and a half years and three prime ministers). Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Independent Group for Change, and the Green Party are all proposing a second referendum and the Liberal Democrats are looking to cancel Brexit altogether. Other significant issues like the future of the NHS, austerity politics, devolved powers, etc. have filtered into the mix, as they should with Brexit only really being one part of running the United Kingdom over the next five years. But, with a record number of women standing on Thursday – a third of the nominations for the first time ever – and half of the voting population being women, where do the major parties stand on issues of gender equality?

Liberal Democrats

  • 31% of nominations are women, an increase of 3% from 2017.
  • Jo Swinson, as leader of the Lib Dems, is the only female leader of the three major parties.
  • As a result of defections to the party from Tories and Labour in the last year, there are now an equal number of male and female Lib Dem MPs.
  • Swinson has campaigned in Parliament over her career on issues concerning body issues, the gender pay gap, proxy voting in the house and equal leave paternity.
  • Frustrated with the delay on the domestic abuse bill due to December’s election – when tabled again, they want to include legislative protection for migrant women as well that the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
  • Their manifesto includes 10 mentions of ‘Women’ and 23 mentions of ‘Gender.’
  • Regarding “resource issues”: pledges ‘free, high-quality childcare for children of working parents for nine months; increased paternity leave to six weeks, and compensation or women affected by pensions changes in line with the pension ombudsman report.’
  • Regarding “status issues”: ‘40% board representation; foreign policy agenda with gender quality at the heart; protection for women and girls in trade deals; extend reproductive rights and protect against violence against women and girls (VAWG); set national target to address early deaths of women with learning disabilities; measures addresses VAWG; introduction of gender neutral uniforms in schools.’
  • Regarding “blueprint issues”: ‘extend Equality Act to large firms, and action on gender pay gap.’
  • The Women’s Equality Party (WEP) – an women’s issues party – has stood aside in two constituencies to give Lib Dem candidates Chukka Umunna and Laura Gordon a better chance of winning as part of a pact between the Lib Dems and WEP whereby the Lib Dems have, in exchange, adopted some of WEP’s policies.
  • Have stood down in Canterbury to allow Labour candidate Rosie Duffield a better chance of winning.

Labour

  • ‘First major political party in the UK to offer a majority of female candidates’ – 53%, up 11% from 2017.
  • 45% of current Labour MPs are women (but never a female Labour leader).
  • There are more women that men in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, the first ever to do so.
  • Their manifesto includes 35 mentions of ‘Women’ and 11 of ‘Gender.’
  • Strong opposition to austerity agenda as a major difference from other parties’ stances on women’s issues – notes that 86% of cuts due to austerity measures have ‘fallen on the shoulders of women.’
  • They have pledged to ensure ‘flexible working in the workplace… [and] bring in equal paternity rights and address the gender pay gap.’
  • Would ‘introduce legislation to ensure women are protected from “unnecessary and discriminatory dress codes’ and ‘third-party harassment.’
  • Regarding “resource issues”: ‘increasing paid maternity leave from nine to 12 months, doubling paternity leave to four weeks, increasing paternity pay, and extending pregnancy and menopause protection; and full compensation for [women against state pension inequality] WASPI women.’
  • Regarding “status issues”: ‘Protection for pregnant workers and women going through menopause; introduce a workers protection agency around equal pay; appoint a Commissioner for Violence against Women and recognise misogyny as a hate crime; support for international programmes addressing gender inequality, increased funding women’s grassroots organisations, and an ombudsman to examine abuse in the development sector.’
  • Regarding “blueprint issues”: ‘Establishment of a new department for Women and Equalities with a full time Secretary of State, a modernised National Women’s Commission; Regulation for large firms on equality measures; action on the gender pay gap.’

Conservatives

  • 1/5th of MPs are female.
  • 30% of Conservative nominations are female, an increase of 1% since 2017.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused of having an ‘issue with women’ (having compared Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers and joked Malaysian women only go to university to find husbands in 2018 and 2013 respectively) but MPs have insisted he take them seriously.
  • Introduced 30 hours of free childcare, a programme which benefits women, and increased the national living wage.
  • Their manifesto includes 16 mentions of ‘Women’ and no mentions of ‘Gender.’
  • Regarding “resource issues”: ‘A promise to fund ‘more’ free childcare; eave for carers extended to one week, and a policy to support pension payments for those earning between 11k and 12k, the majority of whom are women.’
  • Regarding “status issues”: ‘Pass the Domestic Abuse Bill and pilot domestic abuse courts; continue to take VAWG; promote women’s empowerment in free trade deals.’
  • No promise of “blueprint” measures.

Green Party

  • 41% of Green Party nominations are women, the second highest of the major parties.
  • Has one MP in Parliament, who is female – former leader Caroline Lucas.
  • Currently, lead by Jonathan Bartley and Sian Berry.
  • Their manifesto includes 28 mentions of ‘Women’ and 12 mentions of ‘Gender.’
  • Regarding “resource issues”: ‘Universal Basic Income, a weekly payment for everyone, replacing the current benefits system, starting with WASPI women and phased in for all residents by 2025.’
  • Regarding “status issues”: ‘Reverse funding cuts for women refuges; high-quality maternity care, support for access to abortion and free birth control in the EU; measures to promote diversity in political representation and representation on boards; make misogyny aa hate crime and penal reforms to introduce women’s centres; electronic aid payments to women in developing countries.’
  • Regarding “blueprint issues”: ‘Measures to address the gender pay gap.’

Brexit Party

  • Their manifesto includes 1 mention of ‘Women’ and no mention of ‘Gender.’
  • Regarding “resource issues”: ‘A review of the situation for WASPI women.’
  • No policies regarding “status” or “blueprint” measures.

Summary Manifesto Stances on Women’s Issues  

table -page-001
Addresses the status of women internationally-page-001

Further Reading

I recognise not every party, and not even every party with MPs in Parliament was included in this overview. Only ‘major’ parties fronting candidates nationwide were included. This neglects the manifesto policies of regional parties like the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionist Party, etc. If you are voting in a constituency that is fronting candidates from these parties, or are interested in the policies of the Independent Group for Change, I recommend reading their manifestos linked below. I’ve also included the manifestos of the parties mentioned above and the sources used in this article for more expansive research.

SNP: https://www.snp.org/general-election-2019/

Plaid Cymru: https://www.partyof.wales/maniffesto_2019

DUP: https://www.mydup.com/images/uploads/dup-manifesto.pdf

Sinn Fein: https://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/55481

The Independent Group for Change: https://voteforchange.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2020-Vision-The-Independent-for-Change.pdf

Brexit Party: https://www.thebrexitparty.org/contract/

Green Party: https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/images/greenguarantee/women-easyread-manifesto.pdf OR https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Elections/Green%20Party%20Manifesto%202019.pdf

Lib Dems: https://www.libdems.org.uk/plan

Labour: https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/

Conservatives: https://vote.conservatives.com/our-plan

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/nov/16/record-number-of-women-to-stand-in-general-election

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/general-election-women-conservatives-boris-johnson-labour-lib-dems-a9190566.html

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