Monday, 5 May 2014

April 2014 - How was it for you?

After a big month for women in Westminster the idea of disciplining myself to write a monthly feminist round-up seemed like a good one. An awful lot happens in the political world that never hits the new headlines, but April shone a spotlight on the often maligned culture and equalities briefs. Four female secretaries of state became three when Maria Miller resigned after being ordered to repay £5800 of mis-claimed expenses and, embarrassingly, to apologise for her attitude to the investigation into her actions. This meant that we not only lost a secretary of state, but also that a new minister for women and equalities needed to be appointed.

Sajid Javid stepped up for culture and equalities, but even David Cameron recognised that a male minister for women wouldn’t do. However, when Nicky Morgan was announced as the incumbent to the post, it didn’t take long for aspersions to be cast on her credentials, despite her XX chromosome. Having voted against same sex marriage, the almost instantaneous question was whether Morgan had become minister for women, or just heterosexual women. As Helen Lewis pointed out, it’s not as if any of the big pushes for women in this parliament, on FGM, sex and relationship education or raising awareness of body image issues, came from Miller, but to appoint someone who has actively voted against the rights of homosexual women was quite a body blow. Cameron made the provision for her to report directly to Cabinet rather than to a man who reports to him, another man. But until we have a prime minister for women, rather than a lower level minister, the interests of half the population aren’t going to be at the fore of consideration.

A bad month for female representation in the Cabinet from Tories was lifted slightly by the Lib Dems when Jenny Willott became champion for women in business, and the first ever female Lib Dem to attend Cabinet when she made a presentation on the coalition’s efforts to close the gender pay gap. This was an important achievement for Nick Clegg and the party following the Lord Rennard controversy, which hit the Lib Dems' reputation on female representation hard. The renewed effort on this issue, led by Willott, was also worthy of celebration, as according to the Office for National Statistics the gender pay gap has stayed largely static over the entire course of this Parliament at approximately £5500 on average. However, given that getting a female Lib Dem into a Cabinet meeting has taken nearly four years of being in power, and that just one eighth of the party’s MPs are women, it still leaves rather a lot of room for improvement.

In terms of the numbers game, it only seems fair that Labour get a special mention in comparison. Of those attending the shadow Cabinet, just over 50 per cent are female, though of the most senior positions, i.e. secretaries of state, women make up just over one third. The party is working to capitalise on this lead, especially by highlighting the implications of controversial Conservative policy for women. Rachel Reeves stressed the adverse effects of the bedroom tax by pointing out its application to panic rooms for victims of domestic violence; Sadiq Khan, commented on the lack of diversity in the judiciary alongside criticism of the government’s legal aid reforms; and Gloria De Piero looked to capitalise on the aforementioned changes to the women and equalities briefs by writing an open letter to David Cameron. Miliband has also been flanking himself with women on the front bench at all opportunities, after attempting to discredit the coalition’s record on women in government during a PMQs session earlier this year.

A mention of PMQs can’t be let slide this month without a nod to John Bercow’s revelation that a number of MPs have told him that they actively avoid PMQs due to the “histrionics and cacophony of noise” that accompanies it. The comments were made to highlight disillusionment with politics that sadly runs far wider than the focus on political issues that affect half the population, or ‘women’s issues’, as they belittlingly tend to be termed. However, the image conjured by women shunning the juvenile boys' club that has become a weekly embarrassment to many MPs, certainly felt like a win for women in politics, even if it did take a prominent male to push the issue in the mainstream media.

The fruitcakes were at it again in April, suggesting that women shouldn’t be allowed to wear trousers, promoting rape myths and plenty more of their standard fare. Early April’s televised debates between Clegg and Farage on Europe were a car crash for Europhiles, but failed catastrophically to truly highlight what the UKIP leadership thinks about women. It seems that their thoughts on the ‘fairer sex’ are seen as a side issue, yet again maligned as a minority issue to be brought out for ridicule if the news agenda runs out of steam. One would hope that a quick Google would remind anyone considering them as a legitimate option of their distain, not only for minorities, but, I’ll say it again, half the population.

During May the drama of the European and local elections will play out, so there will be plenty to discuss. Until then join the debate by ensuring that you’re registered to vote. The deadline is May 6, despite the election not being until May 22. Find out everything you need to know at tell your friends.



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