International Women’s Day is a reminder that the fight to achieve equality for women is still far from won. In the past year, yet again, we have had far too many painful reminders of the injustice, prejudice and discrimination that women still face every single day.
Testimonies of institutional misogyny in organisations here in Wales and other parts of the UK have reminded us of the discrimination women still face, in the workplace and public life more generally.
It took decades to achieve progress for women, from the Equal Pay Act to the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equality Act through to the introduction of the minimum wage. Yet recently, it all too often feels like progress has stalled, even regressed.
More than 50 years since a Labour government passed the Equal Pay Act, many women are still paid less than men for doing the same job or a job of equal value.
After every Tory budget, it’s the same old story; women being hit hardest by the Chancellors’ tax rises, austerity measures and cuts to social security.
Labour’s New Deal for Working People introduces a raft of proposals to transform women’s working lives and we’ll introduce law within the first 100 days of a Labour government to implement them.
This includes enabling equal pay comparisons across employers, where men and women carry out comparable work. We will enforce the requirement to report and eliminate pay gaps, with employers required to devise and implement plans to eradicate these inequalities.
Today, to mark International Women’s Day, Labour is launching is a review of the gender pay gap, which will be led by the former General Secretary of the Trade Unions Congress, Frances O’Grady. Frances has dedicated her career to fighting inequality in the workplace and her experience will be invaluable in ending this injustice.
The review will work with Rachel Reeves, Angela Rayner and Anneliese Dodds to look at the barriers remaining in tackling the gender pay gap. It will examine the causes of wage gaps between men and women in Britain and help Labour to build on our existing policies to increase the contribution of working women to the UK economy, tackle the gender pay gap and help support working parents.
We will also make sure that flexible working is a day one right. Labour will also take action to protect new parents, strengthening protections against redundancy for new mothers and reforming the failed parental leave system.
As part of Labour’s commitment to take menopause seriously at work, the next Labour government will require all large employers, with more than 250 employees, to write and implement a menopause action plan.
This policy is in no small part due to the tireless campaigning of Welsh Labour’s Deputy Leader, Carolyn Harris MP, who has been leading the menopause revolution in Parliament.
For far too long, awareness about the menopause has been too low. We need to get better at talking about it, but we also need to make sure that workplaces and healthcare are adapted to support women going through the menopause.
Violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, has been allowed to run riot under successive Tory governments.
How can the Prime Minister and his Ministers preside over a criminal justice system where there have been half a million reported rapes since 2010 and in the last 4 years, just 1.5% of those are prosecuted? For the first time ever, the time it takes between the rape occurring and a case coming to trial is now over 3 years, causing unimaginable additional pain and stress for survivors.
And we know that many rapes are never even reported to the police.
Labour will end the current postcode lottery that victims face. Reports of domestic abuse have risen rapidly in the past decade but because of the backlogs in the courts, victims often face a long wait for justice. This is unjust, unfair and harmful.
Speaking at the Women’s Aid conference last week, Keir Starmer pledged to make it his personal mission to tackle domestic violence. As Director of Public Prosecution, he supported the introduction of Jane’s Law in 2012 which allows the Crown Prosecution Service to appeal against the bailing of defendants.
It’s not just within the workplace that women are being failed. Research has shown 71% of women of all ages in the UK had experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space. That number rose to 86% among 18-24-year-olds.
This is appalling. Public sexual harassment reduces the freedom women and girls have to enjoy their lives; negatively impacting their feelings of safety, bodily autonomy and mental health.
The next Labour Government will take meaningful steps to tackle the misogyny, harassment and abuse that is faced by too many women. We will make misogyny a hate crime, introduce a new street harassment offence to protect women everywhere and put domestic abuse specialists in every 999-control room.
We know that what happens offline happens online too. The much-vaunted Online Safety Bill was supposed to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. Five years after the Tory government promised to introduce new law, we’re still waiting for it to become a reality.
The proposals have been watered down, delayed, bits changed and then reinstated in a complete dog’s dinner. Online misogyny and the real-world consequences of dangerous anti-women ideologies are a huge concern. Global influencers are now able to spread their hate to a huge audience.
The Online Safety Bill must be strengthened. If the Tories won’t do it, the next Labour government will.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, we are seeing the rolling back of women’s rights and protections around the world. Attacks on our reproductive healthcare rights and safe, legal access to abortion. Attacks on our right to education in school and in university. And an increase in sexual violence and violence, much of it fuelled by the online world.
So when people say feminism isn’t relevant anymore, I say it’s more relevant than ever. The job isn’t finished. Never give up.