As we emerge from the pandemic, an equal recovery must be our priority

Marsha de Cordova

Labour is hosting the national annual women’s conference this weekend. It is online, to keep all our members safe, but promises to be a great event. Our annual women’s conference enables our women in Labour to participate in policy-making and offers the opportunity to share ideas with delegates from across the UK.

The theme this year is “Women Rebuilding For Our Future – Labour women’s demands for life now and after Covid”. There are over a thousand delegates attending; the youngest visitor is 15 and the oldest 92. The packed agenda is full of excellent speakers from across the labour movement.

We will be discussing policy, debating motions and voting on issues ranging from climate justice to violence against women and girls and how to achieve equal recovery in our post-Covid world. The conference team have prioritised interactivity and accessibility including closed captioning and BSL signing across all of conference weekend.

On Saturday morning, Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and I welcomed delegates and opened the conference. We are launching policies to protect and promote gender equality as we emerge from the pandemic. We know it hasn’t been an easy year for many of us and it’s rarely felt more important for women to join together and take a stand for equality and justice.

The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on institutional and structural racism that continues across society. The deaths of Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry shone a light on the perniciousness and awful injustice of violence against women and girls.

At the same time, the pandemic has had a hugely unequal impact on women, especially Black, Asian and ethnic minority women and disabled women, mothers and women on low incomes. For example, disabled women were over 11 times as likely to die from the virus, and Black, Asian and ethnic minority women are now over twice as likely to be unemployed.

Women have been more likely to be furloughed, more likely to lose income to home-school and more likely to work in sectors predicted to see the slowest economic recovery from the crisis. Pregnant women and new mothers have faced discrimination in the furlough and self-employment schemes, young women have been more likely to work in shut down sectors while the childcare and social care sectors – where women are more likely to work – have been hung out to dry.

Despite this being the biggest public health and economic crisis of a generation, Boris Johnson’s government have failed to support women. They have ignored their duties under the Equality Act including failing to carry out equality impact assessments. In stark contrast, I want to use this women’s conference to shape a positive vision for change.

The Labour Party is and always will be the party for equality. We introduced the Equal Pay Act and the Equality Act, which is now celebrating its tenth anniversary. As we emerge from the pandemic, an equal recovery must be a priority for all of us.

That is why I am calling for the immediate reintroduction of gender pay gap reporting, as well as the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting to help tackle race inequality in the workplace. I also want to see stronger laws introduced to protect pregnant women and new mothers from redundancy and the default right to flexible working for all.

We need the government to publish disaggregated data on the jobs created by sex, ethnicity and disability to guarantee equal opportunities as well as a review of the failing parental leave system and targeted funding for the childcare sector. These are the things Labour in government would do.

I hope this weekend will be a powerful space to build a better and fairer future for women where equality and justice lead the way.

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