6 highlights from Labour’s ‘Women Connected’ conference

Labour’s online conference replacement ‘Connected’ kicked off today with a new slogan – ‘A New Leadership’ – and events for women. Party chair Angela Rayner opened proceedings, along with Marsha de Cordova, who talked about gender inequality, racial injustice and intersectionality, and Keir Starmer, who started by saying “I’m proud to be addressing you all as a feminist”. The speeches were followed by a series of panels, rallies and training sessions. Here are six contributions that caught our attention…

Childcare and unpaid carers

Shadow minister for early years Tulip Siddiq talked about the impact of Covid-19 on childcare providers during the ‘tackling challenges in the childcare sector, maternity rights and women as carers’ panel event.

She warned that “a lot of nurseries are on the brink of closure” and many of them “won’t be there after coronavirus is over” unless the government steps in. The London MP highlighted that there is also a pre-existing “postcode lottery when it comes to accessing quality childcare for children”, and said we should make the case for improved provision by framing it as an economic issue.

The Labour frontbencher also suggested that all carers should be paid, saying: “I think there is a lot to be done, but certainly value in recognising the work that young unpaid carers do is something that I would start off with…

“If you are asking me for an ideal solution, I would say I would like to pay all carers no matter what. If it’s an allowance – it may not be an hourly rate, probably too much to hope for – at least if we had some form of allowance to cover expenses, that would be a start.”

Women and the economy

In the panel on women and the economy, Anneliese Dodds – our first female Shadow Chancellor – highlighted that women have experienced a Covid ‘motherlode’ whereby women are “more likely to be furloughed or see their jobs under pressure” and also “much more likely to have to pick up on the childcare issues”.

Taking up Angela Rayner’s theme of improving pay in the care sector, Dodds concluded: “Ultimately now is the time for us as women, within the Labour Party and across all those different advocacy organisations across the trade union movement, to be underlying like never before the value of care work. If we didn’t know it was valuable before, my goodness we know it was valuable now.”

Dr Faiza Shaheen of CLASS think tank discussed how the economy is “sexist by design” and focused on low-paid female workers, pointing out that one in three women are just one month away from not being able to pay their rent or mortgage.

Unite’s Jane Stewart celebrated that 200,000 women have joined trade unions over the last year and stressed the importance of “the five Cs: carers, caterers, cleaners, chemists and cashiers” who have “kept this country going” during the pandemic.

Equality Act 2010

An afternoon panel on the Equality Act attracted many questions from Connected attendees on defining gender, sex and protected single-sex spaces. The most popular submissions were around this subject before the chat seemed to be disabled.

The only panellist to directly address this issue was backbench MP Angela Eagle, who said: “We have an example of the divide and rule going on with the battle of the Gender Recognition Act and what has been happening with the way trans people – a very vulnerable group – have been singled out for abuse, which is completely disgusting, in an attempt to set feminists against LGBT people.”

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter rally saw Diane Abbott criticise the Labour Party for its failure to recruit Black staffers in its London headquarters, saying: “It’s astonishing to me that in 2020, you can walk into Southside – the Labour Party’s HQ on Victoria Street – and see hardly any Black people.” LabourList has a full write-up of the event.

Equality and international trade

Delivering her speech on equality in international trade from a car passenger seat, Emily Thornberry joked that “James Corden is not about to get in the car with me” for an episode of Carpool Karaoke. She focused on the recent appointment of former Australian Prime Minister “Tony bloody Abbott” as joint president of the UK’s relaunched Board of Trade. 

Listing some of the controversial remarks made by Abbott over the years, Thornberry said: “We have all experienced in our own lives when men repeatedly say and do things like that. They aren’t gaffes or mistakes – they go to the heart of how they see women and their place in the world, and it’s the mindset of a misogynist.”

The Shadow International Trade Secretary described the UK operating an independent trade policy after Brexit as “historic and significant”, and made the case for the country using the change to promote values as it strikes trade deals around the world.

She said: “It’s an opportunity to say to countries that we do deals with that we want you to make, ‘we will do deals with you but we want you to make progress on equal pay for equal work, on equal access to education and healthcare, on women’s reproductive rights, on women and trade union rights’. But Liz Truss is not interested in that.”

Women’s leadership around the world

Lisa Nandy delivered a typically smart speech celebrating women who have provided impressive leadership during the coronavirus crisis. In New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Taiwan, she said, women have been “stepping up, speaking out, smashing down barriers and bringing people together”.

Addressing the final event of the day, cheerily chaired by Jennette Arnold, the Shadow Foreign Secretary said: “What has struck me so much about the leadership they have shown in this crisis is that they know that compromise is not cowardice.

“And that the leadership we need at this moment in the world is not the so-called ‘world-beating’ machismo that is on offer here in the UK, but a leadership that sheds light and not might, the courage to be honest with a frightened public and the self-confidence to change your mind.”

Concluding with a reference to Grunwick leader Jayaben Desai, Nandy told attendees: “We will not wait until 2024. Let’s show Boris Johnson and his government that his is a world we do not accept and show the country that there is an alternative.

“So, to all of you listening today, let’s channel that spirit. We will not take no for an answer. This is the moment and now is our time to roar.”

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