Millicent Fawcett’s Birthday Honoured

Labour Party

Today’s Google Doodle is in honour of Millicent Fawcett; the equal rights campaigner who today would celebrate her 171st birthday.

Millicent Fawcett although well known within feminist circles has reached a wider audience in recent months and is recognised for being the first woman to take her place alongside other famous and significant men in Parliament Square. Earlier this year a statue to the women’s rights campaigner was unveiled – the very first statue of a woman to appear in square to recognise the effort she made to achieve voting rights for women.

The unveiling of her statue was not only significant because she was the first woman to have her statue erected in Parliament Square, but it is also the place where many significant battles between the suffragettes and Police took place.

Millicent was not the only person in her family to strive for equal rights, her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, also pushed boundaries in medicine and fought to be the first female Doctor in the UK.

Today the Fawcett Society, a leading women’s rights and equality charity, works to advance women’s equality. Continuing the legacy of Millicent, who aged just 19 collected over a thousand signatures on a petition to secure women the right to vote, the society fights sexism and gender inequality through its research and campaigns.

On Sunday thousands of women and girls marched through the streets around across cities in the UK wearing the colours of the suffragettes to mark the centenary of some women getting the vote.

This important moment in history was only made possible through the grit and determination of those like Millicent Fawcett and her contemporaries such as Emily Wilding Davison and of course the famous Pankhurst sisters whose lives were dedicated to ensuring women had the right to vote.

How is Europe tackling the gender pay gap?

Labour Party

Yesterday I wrote an article for Labour List, which set out what the European Union is doing to tackle the gender pay gap. It is recognised that from the start of this week until December 31 women effectively work for free due to pay inequalities between men and women.

You can read my article in full below.

It could not be more apparent (or obvious) that there is a gender pay gap in existence. A recent calculation carried out by the Fawcett Society found that from the start of this week until the end of the year women will effectively work for free. It was a contentious revelation with some denouncing the very idea as preposterous. But the Fawcett Society calculation does illustrate the issue of the gender pay gap which at the end of 2015, shockingly, remains unresolved.

As a Labour representative in Europe and Labour’s spokesperson in Europe for gender and equality I have worked for a long time to address the issue of gender and pay. Equality between men and women is a fundamental value which lays the foundations of the European Union. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the EU treaties, and the European Parliament takes the issue of a gender pay gap increasingly seriously.

However, the reality is that we are a long way from achieving any form of parity. The average hourly wage for women in Europe is 16.3% lower than it is for men. This equates to women working for free for 59 days each year.

One of the most notable moves by the European Union was to introduce for the first time a dedicated Commissioner for women, at the start of the current mandate last year Commissioner Vera Jourova the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality is also taking the issue seriously. She stated in a speech earlier this month that urgent action was needed to tackle pay inequalities.

Meanwhile a consultation undertaken by the European Commission, the results of which were published in November, found that equality between men and women and the gender pay gap was the most urgent inequality that the European Union must address. Commissioner Jourova is clearly concerned and in response to this said: “At the current pace, the gender pay gap is declining so slowly that we will need to wait another 70 years to achieve equal pay – that’s not one generation, but two”.

There is support across the Commission for the issue, and Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission declared in a speech delivered in New York in September: “I am a feminist.” He said to the audience: “We tend to think of gender progress as a straight line. Some countries are lagging behind, but everyone’s moving in the right direction. In the end we’ll all get there. It’s a natural evolution – it’s happening by itself. Well, it’s not.”

Not only is a gender pay gap unjustified and unacceptable but the consequences are life long. The cumulative effect of the pay gap means women’s pensions are affected with calculations suggesting that women’s pensions are 39% less than men’s. Women need to have equal access to the workplace for as long as men in order to close the pension pay gap. This can be achieved by providing opportunities for women to enjoy their careers for the same length of time as men. We should be able to reach a situation where, if women choose, they are not forced to leave the labour market for lengthy periods in order to be the primary carers. This means encouraging men to take on their share of familial responsibilities, among other measures.

The Commission is seeking to address this very issue. In August it introduced a road map, known as New Start to Address the Challenges of Work-life Balance Faced by Working Families; it hopes to identify ways to combat the low participation of women in the labour market.

As well as looking at low participation of women in the labour market, the ‘new start’ initiative seeks to find ways to help parents or those with dependent relatives to find a better balance between their caring and professional responsibilities.

The programme will also seek to tackle the issue of affordable childcare and rigid working arrangements as well as the absence of incentives for men to take on more childcare responsibilities.

It’s not just a cultural shift required, legislatively there is also work which needs to be done. While legislation does exist which is meant to protect women in areas of un-equal pay there are problems with it being outdated and also concerns that its poor implementation and lack of thorough enforcement by member state governments has rendered it obsolete.

Earlier this year the European Parliament voted to adopt a report which examined the implementation of the EU Directive on equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in employment. The report found that the existing legislation had ‘reached its limits’ and stressed the urgent need for it to be updated.

The report also searched ways to overcome the problem of unequal pay and identified wage transparency as one effective tool to combat this. Mandatory wage transparency would also arm existing employees with knowledge concerning their own pay and benefits package but also provide the basis of evidence for victims who are seeking to initiate discrimination cases.

The report also recommended that there could be a complete overhaul of the existing directive. Such a move could include the introduction of things such as wage transparency and wage audits. It could also include other specific measures such as changing the burden of proof principle in cases where there are claims of alleged sex discrimination.

It is shocking that despite more than 40 years of legislation that the existence of a gender pay gap is so prominent and so obvious.

Are women better off today than their mothers were?

Labour Party

Soon after I joined the Labour Party in London in the dim and distant past my Constituency Labour Party Women’s Section (yes, that was in the days when the Labour Party still had a thriving women’s organisation) held a discussion entitled “Are you better off than your mother?” I remember it to this day because it seemed such a pertinent subject and a good way of evaluating where women were going.

On the whole, we thought we were better off than our mothers, though with strong caveats. We were generally better educated, had a higher standard of living and believed more opportunities were open to us.

I am not so sure the current generation of 20 something women can feel the same. Reaction is all around us: the Church of England has refused women bishops, there is currently no woman on the board of the European Central Bank and the Tory-led coalition Cabinet has only five women out of a membership of 24. As if that were not bad enough, Prime Minister Cameron recently told the CBI that equality impact assessments are indispensible in his drive to cut “red tape”. In other words, measures that protect women are mere regulation which should be abolished.

We are seeing a damaging and destructive retrograde pattern. Forty per cent of jobs in the public sector are held by women. Cuts therefore hit them disproportionately. Quoted in Sunday’s Observer Ceri Goddard from the Fawcett Society said: ” The diminishing role of the state is going to have a significantly negative impact on women’s lives….The state as a public sector employer and a provider of services such as childcare has played a huge part in women’s progress for 30 years.”

Women are not only losing their jobs. There is also a lack of women at the top of our institutions, despite research which shows that diverse leadership creates more positive outcomes than that of men alone. For the first time women’s progress has virtually halted, a situation which may get worse rather than better.

Much of this has to do with the current ascendancy of what could loosely be termed reactionary forces. We have a right-wing government in Britain bolstered by some extremely right-wing Tory MPs. Our country’s economy is effectively in the hands of six men – David Cameron, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin, Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and David Laws. I defy anyone to spot any real difference between these paragons. Even the dear old Church of England is now in hock to an alliance between the conservative Anglo-Catholic wing and the conservative evangelicals who came together to block women bishops.

The plain truth is that women do better under centre-left governments when progress rather than reaction is the driving force. The number of women MPs has gone up every time Labour has had a majority in the House of Commons, culminating in 120 following the Labour landslide in 1997. Tellingly of this 120, 101 were Labour women MPs out of a Labour total of 419 seats won. The Tories had only 13 women out of 165 seats in the House of Commons while the Lib-Dems won 46 seats with three women. 

The results for the 2010 were as follows: Tories 306 seats won with 49 women MPs, Labour managed to take 258 constituencies and had 81 women while the Lib-Dems gained 57 seats returning seven women.

Labour’s record on women MPs is streets ahead of the Conservatives, both now and in the past. Women do not do well when the right is in the dominant force, in politics or any other walk of life. I hope all those women who are suffering the effects of the recession and the seeming reverse in women’s fortunes will take this message to heart.

The answer to the question, “Are we better off that out mothers were?” lies to a large extent in whether progressive forces or right-wing reaction were in power across our national institutions at the time our mothers were making their way. As women we were and undeniably will be better off under Labour.

Guest Blog: Female Heroines

Labour Party


Today’s guest blog is from Geraldine Evans, of the  South London Fawcett Group.

While flicking through my book The Suffragettes in Pictures in preparation for my dissertation I came across a charming picture of the ‘Famous Women’ Pageant of the Women’s Coronation Procession. I suspect you are not familiar with this picture, let me fill you in.

On 17th June 1911, the Women’s Social and Political Union (the leading organization campaigning for Women’s suffrage) organised a march across the streets of London from Blackfriars Bridge to a rally at the Royal Albert Hall in which over 66,000 women took part to represent their political views. The ‘Famous Women’ Pageant of the Procession comprised of suffragettes who had dressed up as notable women from the past. The characters included Grace Darling, a heroine who rescued 13 survivors from a boat wrecked off the Farne Islands in 1838; Jenny Lind, the most celebrated and recognised soprano of her time and Mrs Somerville, an advocate of higher education for women and women’s suffrage and also a science writer, after whom Somerville College, Oxford, is named.

As a university student, dressing up as ‘notable women’ (or men, or animals, or inanimate objects for that matter) is no foreign concept. However, the chances of turning up to a fancy dress party to find women dressed as scientists, heroines, or campaigners are incredibly slim and leads me to wonder, just who are the ‘notable women’ in today’s society?

According to magazines, newspapers and television, they are heiresses, talent show judges, socialites (whatever that means), fashion models, glamour models, reality TV stars, singers, footballers wives and actresses. The list is endless, and apparently it doesn’t take much to be considered a celebrity anymore, and often women become famous for their scandals, rather than their achievements.

Although I don’t intend in any way to undermine the many notable achievements of women in today’s society, I can’t help but feel young girls are being let down. A recent survey by Girl Guiding UK found that 57% of girls interviewed were interested in hairdressing as a career choice. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, however, the survey found that 51% veered away from engineering careers because it didn’t interest them and 60% claimed this was due to the lack of role models.

These results are not surprising. I expect most of us will fail to name even three notable female scientists or engineers. This is a tragedy. Women such as Millicent Fawcett, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Eleanor Davies-Colley fought for the right to practice medicine and open up the profession to other women, so why are we not recognising women who not only succeed in traditionally male dominated spheres of life, but also give hope and influence to our younger generation?

Of course, this doesn’t just apply for science and engineering. Whilst studying A-Level politics I became acutely aware of how often textbooks mentioned male politicians, however failed to mention any female politicians apart from when discussing feminism or Margaret Thatcher. There is a general lack of female role models mentioned in teaching resources across the entire national curriculum. Is it just because the women don’t exist? Of course not. They exist, in every profession, from politics to business, and science to engineering.

Why are we not appreciating and recognising women who defeat institutional sexism and prejudice in traditionally male dominated careers? Surely providing young girls with role models such as female politicians, businesswomen and scientists would inspire them to realise they can succeed in traditionally male dominated professions?

Unfortunately, today’s celebrity culture doesn’t just disadvantage the younger generation in terms of role models. It is also considerably detrimental to their self-esteem.

According to the same Girl Guiding survey, 55% of girls claimed the pressure to look like a celebrity was a major cause of stress, and another survey found that girls associated being slim and pretty with popularity and happiness.

As a 21 year old I constantly feel the pressure to look like a celebrity- or perhaps, to conform to the idea of what is now considered beautiful.

Unfortunately, this notion of beautiful which women are constantly bombarded with in newspapers, magazines and on television is not only unnatural but also unattainable, unrealistic and not to mention increasingly sexualised.

Despite being fully aware I will never achieve this level of unnatural and unrealistic beauty, it doesn’t stop me, (and of course other women) trying. Unfortunately, I suspect this pressure is becoming worse for the younger generation.

The Internet and television are becoming two increasingly ubiquitous sources of entertainment, and I expect it would incredibly difficult to find a young child without access to either.

This not only ensures that young girls can constantly see these levels of unattainable beauty, but networking sites such as twitter and facebook also allow them to interact with these celebrities, feel part of the celebrity culture themselves and further idealise and aspire to unrealistic images of beauty.

Secondly, television programmes more often than not endorse gender roles and stereotypes. The changing role of reality TV is particularly worrying.

Television shows such as The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Geordie Shore are not only providing entertainment, they are also offering a way of life and more than ever young girls will be feeling the pressure to tend to their appearance and look like a celebrity. Don’t our younger generation deserve more?

Let’s let them know that not only can they succeed in traditionally male dominated professions by honouring the women who have already achieved this, but also that they don’t need to constantly aspire to this unrealistic level of beauty- they are great just the way they are. Until then, I will just have to be the only one dressed up as Emmeline Pankhurst at the fancy dress party.

Geraldine Evans

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

As the Eurozone crisis continues, so we hear news that Britain has a chance to ‘redraw’ the EU- well this is the story according to British PM, David Cameron.


As he and Angela Merkel met for crisis talks there were clearly two different discussions going on, and language barriers couldn’t be blamed. As Merkel made it clear that it was in Britain’s’ interests to strengthen ties, the British PM made it clear that his intention was to move towards a loser union.

You can read Patrick Wintour’s full report in the Guardian here.

I was troubled to read a letter in lasts weeks Guardian which revealed the very troubling news that a third of women have taken antidepressants at some point in their lives, while one in four women currently taking antidepressants have been on them for 10 years or more.

The research was based on a report by the group known as Platform 51 (formerly the YWCA) which helps women and girls take control of their lives.

It found that almost a quarter of those currently taking the medication have not had any kind of review over the last year, according to the research by the group.

Essentially women need more mental health support than they currently receive.

Organisations across the field wrote an open letter urging the Department of Health to commission an urgent review into the use of anti-depressants to ensure the right drugs are prescribed, in the right way and the appropriate level of care. You can read the letter in full here.

Meanwhile I stumbled across this blog last week, in which the author (Jane Martinson) poses the question: ‘Is government turning back the clock?’

When you consider it, it’s quite obvious. Women’s rights were minimal, rising levels of unemployment and very few women worked outside the home while housewives received very little support.

Women’s rights were not the top of most politicians’ agendas back then. And how easy it would be to slowly and seamlessly flop back to that phase (almost without anyone noticing).

Opportunities for women to continue working are, for now, good. But as the government cuts funding to Sure Start centres, plays around with child benefit and cuts public sector employment (an area which has a higher proportion of female employees) then so it jeopardises opportunities for women.

As Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society said: ‘Women have not faced a greater threat to their financial security and rights in living memory.’

Already there is unrest, last weekend saw a day of action when 1,100 feminists to take part in a series of debates organised by UK Feminista.

As Martinson points out in her well observed blog, it could be just a blink of the eye before we revert back to the smart, yet oppressed 1950s. You can read her piece in full here.

Please support the Justice for All Campaign and sign the Pledge

Labour Party

With the implementation of deep legal aid cuts in the coming months, whole swathes of society will find themselves deprived of access to justice. The Coalition’s claims that the move represents a sensible cost-cutting measure, which will challenge the existing ‘culture of litigation’ whilst protecting those in genuine need. Unlikely, I think, since their claim rests on the flawed assumption that those who seek advice on welfare, divorce, employment, and immigration (areas to be excluded from aid), are not at serious risk and therefore undeserving recipients of state assistance.

As is so often the case, women will suffer disproportionately when the cuts take effect, a fact acknowledged in the Government’s own equalities review. Of particular concern is the fact that aid will be available to women seeking divorce only where they have evidence of physical abuse; those suffering psychological victimisation must either endure their situation, or represent themselves in proceedings, a risky and challenging undertaking.

In an effort to challenge the attack on equal access to justice, a coalition of organisations, including the Fawcett Society, who have been shocked by the implications of Government ‘reform’ proposals have united to form the Justice for All Campaign. By taking a few moments to add your name to the pledge, you can help publicise the risks posed and, hopefully, force the ConDems to re-think this callous cut.  Please click on the button below to make your pledge:

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