The story that the government wants to woo back women voters was headline news last week, though probably not getting the kind of headlines they would have wanted.
The plans: shortening school holidays to make things easier for working women, banning advertising to under-16s and overhauling child benefit, made the classic assumption that women’s interests are limited to children’s issues. The idea that family policy and women’s issues are the same (whereas men get to be interested in all kinds of things, even if they have children and families too) received short shrift from women, already anxious about the impact of government policy on women’s lives .
Sadly the Labour Party hasn’t got past the women = children stage either. Despite no longer being a member, I was invited to submit ideas to the party’s National Women’s Conference yesterday. Under the headline What Women Want I was invited to propose “policies which will deliver for women” because: “Labour women have experience and expertise across a vast range of areas”. So why have they asked us to think about:
- How do we best support family life?
- How do we create an NHS that works for all?
- How can we best support women in work?
My rather snarky reply was for them to stop acting as though the only issues that women care about are family related and start thinking about issues which affect women whether they have kids or not (and are not family/health-related which affect men just as much as women and need to be pulled out of the “women’s issues” ghetto).
Other areas in need of work are the gender pay gap and the unequal representation of women in senior jobs – this is slightly different to “supporting women at work” which I took to be a reference to the childcare/flexible working debate.
There’s lots of room for improvement. Research out in August suggested female executives will have to wait until 2109 before their average salary catches up with their male peers’. Last year the government abandoned compulsory pay audits which were an attempt to close the pay gap. Sex and Power, a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned it will take 70 years to achieve an equal number of women MPs, that the number of women in the Cabinet has fallen to its lowest level in a decade and that women are in short supply at the top of the media, business, the judiciary, the arts and education.
Get some of that lot sorted out and perhaps politicians will see that women are more than “just” mums – because more of them will look like us.