Thursday 21 April 2011

Putting women at the centre of politics

The ‘invisibility’ of women during Labour’s general election campaign shocked many in the party, as did the struggle to field a female candidate in the leadership election. It reminded everyone how far away gender equality still is, despite the tangible but incremental progress under Labour. And it showed that Labour, whilst rightly proud of the step change in female political representation that happened in 1997 and still far ahead of the other major parties, had become complacent. It highlighted the extent to which cultural and institutional sexism remains in our politics.

So how do we move forward towards genuine fair representation? Politics is now dominated by a generation of 40 year olds; prime ministers having children whilst in office is becoming old news. There seems a clear opportunity to change some norms. How does that happen? There was lots of handwringing in the Labour leadership debates about the lack of female candidates and the hustings often focused on the pressures on the candidates’ young families – but ultimately it was still a contest dominated by male former special advisers. Similarly, it seemed strikingly positive that four weeks after stepping into such a high profile job, Ed Miliband went on paternity leave. But what should have been a powerful symbol of the importance of shared responsibility for childcare, quickly became a public narrative of a void at the top of the Labour Party. It’s important that new times don’t end up reinforcing the status quo.

The spring issue of the Fabian Review is a special issue dedicated to gender equality. It’s published next Wednesday (27th) and will be hitting member’s doormats throughout the week.

As well as considering these issues of political representation, it also focuses on the government's programme of public spending cuts and how they impact disproportionately on women. The Women’s Budget Group report that followed last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review provides a pretty compelling exposition of how under this government, women’s lives are going to get considerably worse. Howard Reed argues in the magazine that the cuts "did not have to be made in a way which disadvantaged women this much".

You can preview Howard Reed's new research data here, as well as piece by Demos director Kitty Ussher on Next Left on how future budgets can be fairer.

We'll be previewing more pieces over the next few days - and you can get more information on what's in the magazine and how to get hold of it here. Comments and feedback as ever very much appreciated below.

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