Closing the Gender Gap: What Labour Will Do and What the Tories Won’t
Today we had further evidence – if evidence were needed – of the lack of interest David Cameron’s government has in addressing issues of inequality.
This time it came in the shape of the World Economic Forum’s report on the Gender Gap.
Worldwide, the trend looks good: over the last ten years significant steps have been taken by many of the world’s governments to ensure that there are more women in governmental positions and that more women in work earn the same pay as men for doing the same work.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Scandinavian countries consistently topped the WEF measures. They have for a long time recognised that a healthy society requires gender parity.
More disappointingly, the UK has slipped 8 places in the WEF’s measures to 26th position.
Are we surprised by these dismal figures?
Remember those telling photos that accompanied Prime Minister’s Questions on 5th of February this year?
Not a single woman on the government front bench. Compare that with Labour’s front bench on the same day, where women shadow ministers outnumbered their male counterparts.
A government made up mostly of men – and men from a particular educational and social background – are hardly going to be interested in promoting the sort of measures that would address the gender gap.
This is just one of the many reasons why we so desperately need a Labour government committed to challenging this kind of inequality.
One of the first acts of the Coalition government was to scrap the requirement in Labour’s Equality Act for businesses and institutions to conduct gender pay audits. Rather than bring out into the open the discrepancy between male and female pay, the government decided to allow ‘business as usual’ to be the order of the day.
The difference between Labour’s desire to address gender inequality and the government’s actions to ignore it says so much.
Images invariably speak louder than facts, and yesterday provided some of those too.
The Fawcett Society asked celebrities and politicians to wear one of their famous ‘This Is What a Feminist Looks Like’ t-shirts, rebranded by Elle Magazine.
There was much excitement in the Twittersphere at the sight of Benedict Cumberbatch in one of these t-shirts.
We Lefty women were more excited by their photos of Ed Miliband (obvs): more so given what he said about why he was wearing the t-shirt:
“Feminism means striving for a world where power is something we share equally as men and women, a world where equal pay is a campaign our children learn about in history books and a woman in the top job is no longer a novelty; a world where girls are asked what they want to achieve, not what they want to look like, and women don’t fear violence for speaking out or wanting more. Feminism means a better world for us all and a battle yet to be won.”
David Cameron refused to wear the shirt. Perhaps he felt it was beneath his dignity as PM. Perhaps he just was being consistent, given the kind of mealy-mouthed answers he’s given in the past about whether or not he considers himself to be a feminist.
Actions speak louder than words.
I would have less of a problem with Cameron’s stance on a photo opportunity if I thought he was genuinely committed to narrowing the gender gap. Nothing that he has done in government to date suggests that this is the case.
If you are a woman, struggling with the cost of living, with the knowledge that you are likely to be working for less than your male counterpart, knowing that you are – still – doing more than your fair share of caring for young or elderly family members – take a moment and ask yourself this:
When it comes to voting in May 2015, who is most likely to address those gaps that make my life so much more difficult than that of my male counterparts?
It’s easy to ignore Ed Miliband, given the media noise against him. But under Ed Labour is extending our previous work to address inequality. All Women Shortlists are working to ensure a Labour government that will be far more representative than the lot who are currently in charge. In terms of policy, we await Labour’s manifesto but already know something of the measures that will make women’s lives easier: extending free childcare from 15 to 25 hours, ensuring equal pay in the workplace, a National Care Service.
When Ed put on that t-shirt it was more than a photo opportunity: it was simply an action that fits with the policies his party is shaping under his leadership.
Vote Labour, and close the gender gap once and for all.