Feminist Issues in the Labour Leadership Contest

As our UK readers can hardly have escaped hearing, and as other readers may know, the UK Labour Party is currently in the midst of a leadership contest that has seen surprisingly high levels of support for the candidate initially seen as a left-wing outsider, Jeremy Corbyn. Last week, Corbyn’s campaign released a document titled ‘Working with Women’ that sets out a strategy aimed at gender equality. It makes for interesting reading. If elected Labour leader, Corbyn promises to work for free universal childcare, mandatory sex and relationships education in schools, career services for young people aimed at disrupting gender stereotypes (in both directions), mandatory equal pay audits for all companies and an end to fees for employees taking their employers to tribunals (1). He recognizes the greater impact on women of cuts to public services, and besides an end to austerity in general he promises to reverse cuts to rape crisis and domestic violence services in particular. He also commits to having 50% women in the Shadow Cabinet. Taken as a whole, this is an impressive position from a feminist perspective and I find it heartening to see it being put forward by Corbyn as part of his leadership campaign.

None of the other three candidates – Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall – has issued a similar document. However, I did find the following specific positions each had taken in the campaign:

Yvette Cooper: wants to offer 30 hours per week of free childcare for pre-school children over 2.

Andy Burnham: has promised a 50% women shadow cabinet, including a woman shadow first secretary of state.

Liz Kendall: wants to increase the number of labour women councillors by a third.

More information on the positions and pledges of any of the candidates relating to gender equality is very welcome in the comments.

***Update 07.08***

I’ve just found this page where Burnham, Cooper and Corbyn have responded to some questions from End Violence Against Women about the Shadow Equalities Minister, sex education, and shelters and other services. All three candidates answer ‘yes’ to all questions, which is good. To his particular credit, Corbyn specifically highlights the need for specialist services for Black and Minority Ethnic women, and the issues of violence against women asylum seekers in detention.

(1) This is particularly relevant to discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers; a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report estimated that up to 54 000 women per year in the UK who are pregnant or on maternity leave are dismissed, made compulsorily redundant or treated so poorly they have to quit their job.

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