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Women and the UK General Election

 

As the snap General Election approaches, many Brits are wondering what each political party can offer them and the country. For women, making up just over half of the population, there are many issues that could swing their vote from one party to another, depending on the policy promises that are made.

In last night’s televised party leaders’ debate, three of the five leaders on the podium were women. Had Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn bothered to turn up, women would have made up four out of six party leaders. This is certainly a step forward, but what are the UK’s political parties promising to do for women in their General Election manifestos?

Party leaders and abortion rights

There is also a useful summary here of how the various party leaders have voted in the past on abortion rights. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, who says one thing and does another, opted out of voting in many cases, while Theresa May commonly voted to reduce access to abortion. Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas, head of the Green Party, frequently voted in favour of abortion rights.

The Conservative Party

Traditionally, the Tories are known for being right-wing and old fashioned. And, much as they may try to fight off their reputation as ‘the nasty party’, their pesky politicians keep screwing up.

Take Conservative Councillor Jon Wright, who told pregnant Labour candidate Catherine Atkinson that she will be “too busy changing nappies” to work as an MP.

Gaffes aside, the Tories want to increase the free childcare available (which shouldn’t be seen as an exclusively women’s issue but invariably will be) for small children, and introduce the right to a year’s unpaid leave from work to be a carer (again, not strictly a women’s issue, in an ideal world).

The party is also encouraging businesses to provide schemes that make it easier for women to return to work after a long absence, and will require large companies to publish data on the pay gap. The party wants to increase the diversity of civil servants and allow for more flexible working within the NHS.

Their efforts to tackle violence against women include ‘reviewing’ funding for women’s refuges, creating a domestic abuse commissioner to hold the police and criminal justice system to account and reduce the stress on child victims of abuse by ensuring they can give evidence before a trial.

The Labour Party

The Labour Party also wants to increase free childcare provision, while also increasing parental leave and extending the period of time a person can apply to an employment tribunal for maternity-based discrimination. They would also increase carers’ allowance and get rid of the controversial ‘rape clause’ requiring parents of more than two children to prove that their third or fourth kids were the product of rape in order to receive child benefit for them.

The Labour Party would also appoint a special commissioner for women’s safety, “to set new standards for tackling domestic and sexual violence, and enforce measures to prevent all forms of abuse, including female genital mutilation, and prohibit the cross examination of victims of domestic violence by their abuser in certain circumstances”.

The party also seeks to expand abortion provision to include Northern Ireland, provide funding for rape crisis centres and refuges, and increase representation of women and minority groups in apprenticeships.

The Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems also want to abolish the ‘rape clause’, and they hope to work with schools to promote positive body image and look at gender stereotypes with children. School children would also be entitled to free sanitary products.

Childcare, again positioned as a women’s issue, would be expanded under the Liberal Democrats, and the party wants to ‘transform’ mental health support for people who are pregnant, new mothers or people who have gone through stillbirth or miscarriage. Parental leave would be extended, including adding extra paternity leave time. They also want to make changes to Carer’s Allowance so that it is easier to qualify (do I need to keep clarifying that this shouldn’t be a women’s issue?).

In terms of equalising employment, the Liberal Democrats would encourage flexible working, require large companies to publish pay gap data, work towards more women in leadership and board positions, and attempt to make parliament a more ‘family friendly’ place. Though having a family has rarely prevented a man from becoming an MP, so this is a women’s issue by dint of the patriarchal world we live in.

The Green Party

The Greens have committed to free maternity care and the right to return to work after maternity leave, including the right to breastfeed once a parent goes back to work. Tax incentives will encourage employers to provide more effectively for new parents and the Greens will provide free early education and childcare.

The party also wants to decriminalise abortion for the entire UK (including Northern Ireland) and scrap the ‘rape clause’. Pensions for women would be fairer under the Greens, and diversity in the workplace would be improved by creating green jobs for women in STEM and introducing job sharing in parliament.

The Green Party would offer free sanitary protection for people in school who needed it, and would develop “clear student-led policies to combat sexual abuse and harassment in higher and further educational establishments”.

The Women’s Equality Party

The Women’s Equality Party has seven key policies that it has invited the other parties to steal and plagiarise. These include:

  • Equality in healthcare and medical research
  • Equal representation
  • Equal pay and opportunity
  • Equal parenting and caregiving
  • Equal education
  • Equal media treatment
  • End violence against women.

Ukip

When a party is built around exclusion and bigotry, it will never end up benefitting oppressed groups such as women. In last night’s TV debate, leader Paul Nuttall showed such disrespect that he just randomly called the women around him ‘Natalie’, not even bothering to learn their names or separate them out. They were just the women. The Natalies.

For women’s sake, as well as the sake of many other minority groups, voting to keep out the Tories and Ukip is most likely going to be the best approach to this upcoming election. While I’m not generally a fan of tactical voting, this feels like the kind of desperate situation where some may consider it. If that is the case, you can get advice on how to keep the Tories out here.

Photo: Teacher Dude/Creative Commons


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Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.

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