Having a statue of the formidable campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft in London is long overdue and I fully support the campaign to commemorate the first public feminist in this way. It is, of course, true that Mary Wollstonecraft had been ignored by history. Her ground breaking book Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792 is nothing like as well- known as it should be. Mary deserves much more recognition than she gets.
I was, therefore, pleased to see Labour’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn endorsing the campaign for her to have a statue, citing the statistic that 90 per cent of statues in London were men. I even thought Jeremy may have been converted to the cause of women’s rights.
Then I stopped to think. Jeremy is, to say the least, lukewarm about Britain’s membership of the EU. This matters as for the past seven years most of the official work relevant to the UK on women’s rights has been done by the European Parliament Women’s Rights Committee of which I am Vice-Chair. (I do not mean to take away from the excellent work done by sisters such as Harriet Harman, Stella Creasy and Jess Philips, but most of their contributions have been their own work not that done by the Government or even the Opposition).
The European Parliament Women’s Committee has worked on the gender pay gap, violence against women and sexual harassment, stereotypes of women in advertising and the media, as well as sexual health and reproductive rights and work-life balance.
Since its founding treaty in 1957, the EU has maintained a commitment to gender equality. As we celebrate the centenary of women gaining the vote in Britain, we would do well to take stock of where we are now. The UK is not in the forefront for gender equality across the EU and were we to cease to be in the European Union British women would be worse off, possibly even losing maternity pay and leave, the right to equal treatment between women and men at work and the EU legislation that means the burden of proof for cases of sex discrimination lies with the employer not the female victim.
Jeremy Corbyn, if you really believe in equality between women and men you need to come out strongly in favour of Britain staying in the EU. If you fail to do so, millions of women in Britain will suffer.