Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Women and Labour - a Labour conference report

Miliband: “the battle for gender equality... in our country is not yet won”

WRC's Policy Officer Rebecca Veazey reports from the Labour Party Conference!

On the opening day of the Labour Party Conference 700 women gathered from across the UK for the Labour Women’s Summit. The first of its kind, the summit brought together female MPs, councillors and party members to think afresh about their party’s policies and listen to women’s concerns.

The annual party conferences are an important event where the political parties review their successes and state their objectives for the year ahead. In light of the recession it is particularly important for our sector to remain informed about political developments and policies that may impact on women’s organisations, our members and future funding.

Proudly proclaimed by Harriet Harman as a 'women-only space' the summit provided a forum for women to discuss gender related issues and share their experiences of British politics. From national policies to local problems attendees expressed similar concerns such as the failure of public authorities to recognise the importance of gender equality and conduct Equality Impact Assessments.

Shadow Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper was a particularly vocal critic of the coalition government’s budget cuts that, according to research by the House of Commons Library, will disproportionately and negatively impact upon women. Ms Cooper pledged that the Labour Party would rally against government cuts of benefits and public services that support women and challenge the Coalition’s plans to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases.

Ms Cooper also criticised the government's decision to abandon rape case reform and commented that the Labour Party needed to connect with women in the UK and that female labour MPs could provide them with a vital voice.

The focus of the summit’s debate centred upon the issue of female representation and the importance of integrating women’s views into party politics. Dianne Abbott, the first black female MP in the UK and the first woman to enter the Labour leadership contest, gave a rousing speech on the barriers to female participation in politics and the importance that women stand for political office.

Following speeches from several prominent female politicians, the audience gave a standing ovation to the newly appointed Labour Party Leader - Ed Miliband. In the opening remarks of his speech, Mr Miliband commented that gender equality in Britain had not yet been achieved and that the Labour Party had to be at the forefront of social change.

"I know that the battle for gender equality in our party and in our country is not yet won and I know that is a battle we have got to win," he said.

Mr Miliband also discussed how the Labour Party needed to heal the wounds of electoral loss and identify ways to support and represent women. He commented that he strongly supported positive action to address gender inequality and "absolutely" advocated the use of all-women shortlists to select suitable political candidates. Mr Miliband said that he would relentlessly campaign for gender parity in the Houses of Parliament and promised that his shadow cabinet would reflect the society he seeks to represent.

Following on from Ed Miliband’s speech Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, pledged that at least eight of the 21 members of the Labour shadow cabinet will be women.

WRC will also be attending the Conservative Party Conference in October to provide you with further information on the key political parties' policies relating to the women’s sector.

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