Sunday, 8 March 2009

International Women's Day

Today on International Women's Day, we blazed a trail through history, celebrating the achievements of women through the ages.

We charted women's struggle for universal justice and simultaneously launched a brand-new CLP Women's Forum on its powerful maiden voyage, whilst outside the March vortex of wind and rain pelted the South Quay and the River Ouse in answering drama.

Interspersed with my stories of Beatrice Webb's plan to sweep away poverty, banish the Victorian Workhouse and build the Welfare State & tales of the Pankhursts, Emily Wilding Davison and the Suffragettes, the 1908 Rush on the House of Commons and the Monster Rally ....

... came contributions thick and fast from the floor about .... Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the Rights of Women, Olympe de Gouges and the Declaration of Women's Rights in the French Revolution and a simultaneous lively debate on ....

..... the Gender Pay Gap, the Care Gap, Toxic Debt and The Parcelling- Up and the Selling-On of Securitised Liabilities ( like, we said, so many out-of-date sausages), Fawcett's Reclaim the Night Campaign, Minimum and Maximum Wages, Gender and the Law, Financial Exclusion and Increasing Women's Representation....

We applauded Labour's Tax Credits, Family Friendly Working, the Minimum Wage ( which has helped over a million women) forthcoming changes for Women and Pensions, Surestart, the NHS, Maternity and Paternity Leave and Pay .... Wow ....

This was Politics at its best.

Participatory.

A critique of how far we've come and how much further we need ( and are going ) to go.

With Labour's landslide victory in 1997 putting 101 Women Labour MP's in Parliament for the first time, women reached the critical mass needed to put gender on the agenda.

Gone were the days in the House of Commons when male Tory MP's thought it was the norm to laugh at the Labour Woman MP's who raised the issue of violence against women.

Or when legislators routinely directed against women MP's behaviour which would have been illegal in any workplace (see Boni Sones OBE's book Women in Parliament, the New Suffragettes, for the shocking revelations).

But all gender achievements are so relatively recent in the grand span of recorded history. It is only 90 years since any women at all won the right to the Parliamentary vote, in 1918 - when Parliament had been around for as long as 650 years.

As late as the 1970's, as one woman recalled today, women could not obtain a mortgage or a bank account without a male guarantor.

Today, only 1 in 5 MP's is a woman, and there have only ever been 29 women in the cabinet.

For the future, Labour Women's destination continues to be Fairness ( which doesn't happen by chance) .

Fairness is good for the economy, good for society and good for women.

Research shows that businesses with women on the board have higher profits.

The staggering 44% gender pay gap in financial services hints that all is not well in that particular industry.

So today's message is this -:

Equality is non-negotiable. Never a disposable add-on. Particularly not in an economic downturn.

The key to engaging more and more women in the party is to keep pushing the boundaries. As Labour does.

The women who succeeded, who made an impact, were women who thought outside the box, who changed public opinion, who would not take no for an answer.

Watch this space.

Alexandra Kemp is a CLP Women's Officer

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