What Women Want Debate


Dear All,
On Tuesday 27 April I attended the ‘What About Women?’ lecture at LSE, hosted by the Fawcett Society http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/ .
Female representatives of the three main parties; Labour, Liberal Democratics and Conservatives were invited to answer pre-submitted questions from a predominately female audience, addressing what their party would do for women if they were to get into power.
Present were:
·       Ceri Goddard- CEO of Fawcett Society (I loved her, think we should get her along for a talk)
·       Harriet Harman (Labour)
·       Theresa May (Conservative)
·       Lynne Featherstone (Liberal Democrats)
For those on twitter look out for the following hash tags sent live during the debate:
Before the questions were asked each representative was asked to give a short pitch for her party.
Lynne Featherstone (LF)
o      Key pledge- Fair taxes, party promises to not tax those who earn £10,000 or less.
o      Aim to change portrayal of women in the media
o      To protect vulnerable women
o      Believes inequality boils down to money
Theresa May (TM)
o      Changed the selection process for the Conservative party to allow more women in. If got voted in would have 55 female MPS in their party.
o      Is involved with Fawcett society (but I am not sure how)
o      Pledges to improve career advice for girls and to administer pay audits on companies of over 250 employees found guilty of underpaying female, compared to male employees.
o      Will create flexible working for parents with kids up to 18 years.
o      Policy against violence- will fund up to 15 new rape crisis centres, will implement ‘drop ins’ by police officers on households where domestic violence has taken place.
o      Will implement work programmes to help female run businesses.
o      Increase NHS funding
o      Give more aid abroad
o      Give women more choice
Harriet Harman (HH)
o      Work and Family- flexible childcare and working hours, longer maternity leave, implement paternity leave.
o      Positive discrimination in pay; make businesses publish what they pay women, to encourage more women to join
o      Continue to work on improving facilities for violence against women
o      International- create a women’s UN agency to back up female foreign ministers etc
o      Gender duty- all public authorities to consider how they will narrow the gender divide 
Below are brief notes on the answers each woman gave to the submitted questions. I have tried to report as neutrally as possible. My apologies to those more politically literate than I.
Which is the best way to progress women’s equality; the ‘big state’ or the ‘big society’?
HH- Believes in the ‘Big state’ helping people, more help to be given form the government 
LF- Believes in the ‘Big state’ helping people, more help to be given form the government. Society needs support from government in order to function at its best. Does not believe the government has all the answers.
TM- Believes in ‘big society’; believes government failed us; responsibility lies with communities working together to solve problems of society.
Who should pay the greatest cost for the financial deficit; women or the bankers (that caused it)?
LF- Bankers should pay. We should protect the vulnerable even when tackling the deficit.
TM- Deficit should be dealt with by taxing the public. Against Labour job tax (those earning £20,000+ to pay more tax). Businesses are against an increase in National Insurance as it would cost them more.  Believes there should be a pay freeze and we should give the professionals back the power to make decisions.
HH-continue economic growth, fair taxes and public spending carefully monitored. We need tax in order to raise the money to pay the deficit.
What issues would you raise with the Pope on his imminent visit?
TM- Would ask, has the Catholic Church done all it can to deal with the alleged child abuse.
HH- Outright avoided the question saying she thought the Catholic Church would have more to ask than her.
LF- would questions the alleged abuses against children.
How should the government use money to promote one kind of lifestyle?– Basically a question about proposed marriage tax.
HH-   Believes marriage tax is wrong as it allows men to marry, walk away from family, and remarry and get tax break each time, but leaving women (possibly with kids) without tax break, in fact it is then removed. Says this system would promote an attitude that to be married is best, to not be means there is something wrong with you; which would impact negatively on children’s view of themselves and their family. Believes this is an old fashioned and dictatorial system. Argued to TM that you can lose money if you divorce or if the woman goes out to work as her tax allowance would then go to him. This would encourage women to not go out to work as it would not be financially viable.
LF- Believes the marriage tax break is unfair and unjust for those not married, or separated/divorced. Wonders if this system incentivizes men to philander.
TM- Says tax break is not dictating a particular lifestyle; it is a financial recognition of marriage and civil partnerships by the government because it has been proven that commitment is good for children.  Reiterated party policy to create flexible parental leave which is regardless of whether married or not; therefore meaning no money is taken away.
There are only 2 women MPs for every 8 men. What reforms could be done to make this 50/50?
LF- Electoral reform (one of their manifesto points); a single, transferable vote. Believes biggest barrier in not having more female MPS is women do not put themselves forward as the political world is aggressively male and anti-social.
TM- Proportional representation does not mean more women in cabinet, but we need more women candidates. We need to change the selection process. Would implement ‘Women to Win’ scheme. Believes cost of being a candidate puts women off as it is very expensive and women may be reluctant to use family/children money ‘on herself’.
HH- If we only have men in the cabinet this is not democratic; issues such as domestic violence, women abroad are not addressed. Labour has an all women shortlists scheme.
Crime- What new actions and resources would your party provide for prevention, provision and protection?
TM- Improving Sex education- teaching of consent, re-educate girls and boys about relationships, what is acceptable behavior.  Rape centre funding, reassessment of what is violence against women, look into how funding is distributed.
HH- Cross party support on some issues. Having DNA kept n file to help prevent and bring to justice sex offences. Make prison sentences for men who commit violence against women no less than 6 months.
LF- Funding for 15 new rape centres; 10 sex offenders centres. Trafficking- to insist all massage parlors etc have the details about what goes on their written in many different languages. Investigation into forced marriages and ‘honour’ killings.
Equal pay- Would you make it a legal obligation to check? Currently women are paid an average 16% less than men for full time work and 30% for part time work.
LF-Would make it mandatory to publish pay figures for companies of over 100 employees.
TM- Those found guilty of inequality to do a pay audit.
HH- Business of 250+ employers to do a mandatory pay audit. Will be a phased programme. Transparency is essential. Will work with Trade Union equality reps.
Unless men take on more care roles in the family women cannot continue to thrive in the workplace. How do you propose to get men /enable men to take on a more caring role?
HH- Believes attitudes have changed and we now see unequal pay hinders families plans to implement equal care even if they desire it because it makes sense for the lower paid i.e woman to stay at home. Would implement flexible working hours for men and women.
LF- In manifesto states there would be 19months parental leave, shared as desired.
TM- Would create more flexible maternity and parental leave. First 14 weeks off by mother only, then next 25 (paid) and 13 (unpaid) weeks can be shared and be off together. This will positively change employer attitudes as at interview when presented with woman of child bearing age will not know whether she or man will take time off.
Sun newspaper ran a story on children’s padded bikini being sold in Primark, and how it sexualized children but it still has Page 3, what is to be done about this?
LF- Liberal Democrats have no press links so potentially they could look into removing page 3.
HH- Party has political involvement with The Sun; however, worried about ads for cosmetic surgery in back of women’s mags. We are against FGM and yet we live in a  culture accepting of [other] forms of ‘cosmetic’ surgery.
TM- In fight against sexualisation of children would ban peer to peer marketing, e.g children selling products to children. Would place government ban on advertisers breaking those rules that they could not advertise for three years.
This question seem to cause the most outrage and stir amongst the audience with one girl shouting ‘‘Let’s ban page 3; come on, we can do it!’’
For more accurate answers to the questions please visit the Fawcett website where all the questions and answers are: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=1064
I feel that this was a very worthwhile debate to go to as I personally find politics hard to engage with and despite not necessarily understanding all the technical terms, I found myself more engaged and thinking more realistically about how politics might affect my future. In particular I was very interested to hear the different parties speak about childcare as this may not affect me, or many of us right now, but it may do in the future.
I was particularly pleased to see that all parties had similar and quite strong ideas about how to deal with violence against women.
Aside from the politics, it was really inspiring to see so many women (and men) of all ages coming together to show they really care about the future of women’s lives and I really think it would be great to be more involved with Fawcett society.
If you have any questions give me a shout.
Sian xx

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Shoreditch Sisters WI

Founded in 2007, we are a WI for women in and around London. We meet on the second Tuesday of the month at 52 - 54 Featherstone Street, London, EC1Y 8RT at 7pm. Membership is available all year around - joining in Jan-31st March is £41 for the entire year, April-30th June £30.75 for three quarters of the year, July- 30 Sept £20.50 of half a year, and Oct-Dec £10.25. We meet 11 times a year plus extra monthly sub-groups. Non-members are welcome to most meetings for £5.