After all the debates, polls and news coverage, the Labour leadership contest is coming to an end. The 50:50 Parliament campaign believes that having more women in Parliament matters because policy decisions matter, so it’s time for a quick roundup of what each candidate might mean for policy developments that affect women in the UK.
It is great to see an equal gender split between those running for the position, but each candidate has their own vision of what the party should stand for. What can we reasonably expect from each candidate with regards to concrete policy commitments?
Liz Kendall –As a woman candidate, Liz Kendall could be a role model, providing encouragement for young women starting out in politics. With men outnumbering women by more than 2:1 a female Leader of the opposition would challenge the dominant masculine dynamic of the Commons, possibly altering the culture of Parliament for future generations.
Liz Kendall supports a living wage, which would have a dramatic effect on the lives of women, were it to be introduced. 27% of women earn less than the living wage, compared to 16% of men. Kendall also supports the Labour Party’s campaign for compulsory Sex and Relationship Education, which is endorsed by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, among others. The introduction of this programme in schools would help to teach young men and women healthy relationship behaviour.
Yvette Cooper – Yvette Cooper, as with Kendall, may be a strong role model for young women by becoming the first female leader of the opposition.
More specifically, Cooper released a five point programme for improving the lives of women in the UK. Like Kendall, she supports compulsory sex and relationship education, as well a move towards the living wage.
Her plan also includes free childcare, paid for by removing some tax breaks for married couples; this policy is viewed as vital to enabling parents, and particularly mothers, to continue participating in public life.
She also outlines plans for ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, so that the one in three women that will have an abortion at some point during their lives do not face intimidation or harassment when accessing healthcare advice or services.
Cooper is committed to a politics of representation, hoping to achieve gender equality at top levels in private corporations, and to enforce new Equalities Act legislation in a move towards achieving gender equality at all levels of employment.
Andy Burnham – Andy Burnham supports the introduction of compulsory Sex and Relationship Education, describing it as ‘absolutely compulsory’ for all schools. He also supports the living wage, which as described above, is set to have a positive impact on the lives of women.
Burnham has also committed to appointing women to constitute half of his top team, if elected as Leader.
Burnham’s manifesto states that he will ‘tackle the inequalities that prevent women from reaching their full potential in the workplace’ but it doesn’t outline what action will necessarily be taken to achieve this.
Burnham’s campaign has centred on the economy, perhaps explaining why his focus has been on women’s equality at work, compared to the other candidates that have addressed a wider range of issues in relation to gender equality. Andy Burnham has contributed to a blog for the Fawcett Society, which has focused largely on women in the workplace.
Like Cooper, Corbyn supports free childcare. Additionally, Corbyn is the only candidate to address ‘intersectionality’ issues and the additional difficulties that some women experience due to racial discrimination, physical ability, age etc.
Among the commitments in his policy document, Corbyn has committed to properly funding Violence Against Women services, which is crucial given that one in six women will experience rape during her adult life.
All the candidates acknowledge that gender inequality is real and set out how they want to challenge it, but each in different ways. The results of the leadership election will give an indication to what a potential Labour victory in 2020 might mean for women, and how the opposition will contribute to the debate in Parliament. Like the 50:50 Parliament campaign they are seeking solutions to these historic problems.