Here are some things that have happened over the last week:
On Sunday, news broke of the list of people who had been prepared by Spencer Livermore and Douglas Alexander to be consulted about how to win the next general election. I have written elsewhere about some of the problems inherent in this list, but absolutely key is that it contained no women. None of the people deemed worthy of meeting are female. And no one picked up on this. Not a person who looked at that list thought there was anything the slightest bit odd about it.
On Tuesday a demonstration was held outside the headquarters of Universities UK to demonstrate against their advice allowing the holding of on-campus gender-segregated meetings. Somewhat bizarrely, this was reported in the HuffPost Uk as a topless protest (in December – umm, OK!). No one connected to the organisation of the protest seemed to understand where the topless angle had come from. Seems if it’s women in public life, it must be something to do with tits.
Certainly, if you have the temerity to question whether the most newsworthy daily contribution women can make to public life is to bear their breasts, you are then apparently “asking for it” in terms of sexist and gendered abuse.
Or at least so thinks the Political Editor of the UK’s widest read newspaper (and proud publisher of those newsworthy knockers). When Labour MP Stella Creasy mentioned the No More Page 3 campaign during PMQs yesterday, he seemed shocked that Stella would criticise women’s bodies being regarded as entertainment while at the same time wearing a skirt of a particular colour and material. Apparently it’s OK though, because as he later explained, he was #justsaying. Hey, no big deal.
So far in a week, and off the top of my head, the things that trump women’s equality include misguided political “expedience”, religious fanaticism and fashion advice from the terminally grey suited.
Under Ed Miliband and led by Jon Cruddas, head of Labour’s policy review, there has been a great deal of talk about shifting our focus from dealing with the results of inequality through redistribution to trying to tackle the causes.
Well here are some vital statistics that some might think relevant to that mission:
- On average two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner in the UK.
- An estimated 66,000 women in England and Wales in 2001 had been subject to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and at least 24,000 girls were at risk of FGM in 2007.
- The full time gender pay gap is 10%, and the average part-time pay gap is 34.5%.
- Approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women.
- Women make up only 17% board directors of FTSE 100 companies.
- Women’s unemployment is a 24 year high and unemployment is highest amongst Black and minority ethnicity women.
(These and many other statistics are taken from the UK Feminista website)
Maybe just once, as the Labour Party are so keen to talk about internal change and societal change, we could perhaps start with gender inequality. Rather than continue to treat it as an add on. As a second wave problem. Because if we are serious about changing the inequality faced by certain groups in society, then dealing with that faced by 50% of the population first would be a good start, not a ending fiddle.
But to do that, we must look first to our own endemic issues. Yes, we are the Party who are – by a country mile – the best in terms of gender representation of elected officials. Yes All Women Shortlists and other measures are invaluable in getting us to that leadership position. But it is not enough. We all know that.
Ed Miliband wants to be a bold leader. As a supported of Ed’s right from the very beginning, I know he is more than capable of this. But if Ed wants to truly be a leader with a great, clunking birth canal then he needs to address the problem of gender inequality in society. Starting with that damn list.