Don’t let them tell you the election was a victory for women.

Women in politics doesn’t equal feminist politics, and according to Emily Hawkins, this general election result proves it.

By Emily Hawkins

Parliament does not represent or reflect the demography of the British population.
(Photo: The Huffington Post)

The result of the 2015 general election was an unexpected one, but now the shock has subsided, debate must turn to what a Conservative majority government means for future attempts to challenge oppressive societal structures. A number of commentators have noted the very slight increase in the amount of female Members of Parliament, and thus lauded the election as a victory for feminism. Yet there is no way of sugar-coating it; the £12 billion of welfare cuts proposed by the Conservatives will harm many of the most vulnerable in our society, and will disproportionately affect women the most. 

Representation is clearly important. Luciana Berger, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree and Shadow Minister for Public Health, told the Huffington Post last year, “It’s important to have a Parliament that reflects British society. If someone happens to see the inside of the House of Commons on BBC Parliament, it clearly doesn’t reflect the constituency. And that is true of women as well as ethnic minorities and the disabled.” However, in an article for the Big Issue, Caroline Criado-Perez, a feminist and journalist, argues that, “Whatever your political persuasion, this increase in female representation is good news for women.” This is an extremely detached political analysis. Cameron’s proposed welfare cuts will have a devastating impact on many women who rely on benefits and other public services. It is ludicrous to argue that those women should feel grateful that there will be more female faces and voices sitting on the green benches in Westminster.

In these early May days, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where welfare will be cut until Osborne’s budget is announced in July, yet regardless of exact policy, when the coalition’s record is examined, the future of a Tory majority government does not fare well for women, or any other oppressed group for that matter. For example, in a House of Lords vote, the Conservatives ardently voted against amending the national curriculum to include the teaching of sexual consent in 2013, and again in 2014, despite the incredible efforts of young people such as Yas Necati, campaigning for the change. 

Moreover, the result cannot be seen as a feminist victory or an achievement paramount to helping Britain be more equal, when the man in charge voted against repealing Section 28 in 2003. The coalition’s record on LGBT rights was generally quite dismal, as this piece by my colleague, Fiona Sullivan, articulates. Furthermore, The Independent, claims the coalition hit women the hardest with its welfare changes: “£22bn of the £28bn changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 have hit women – because they receive 80 per cent of tax credits and 90 per cent of child benefit.” – not to mention the slashing of Sure Start Centres, which helped single mothers cope with childcare. Labour Party research into the impact of Tory cuts also states, “Over a quarter of all working women are now on low pay and make up the majority of workers on zero-hour contracts,” yet David Cameron categorically refuses to raise the minimum wage, and repeatedly downplays the inherently harmful nature of zero hours contracts, despite agreeing he could not live on one himself. 

Research has found that austerity harms women more, as this excerpt from one study shows. (Source: Women’s Budget Group)
Young people like Mollie have used their
post-election anger to unite their cities
with protests. (Photo: Bristol Post.)

Unsurprisingly, there have already been a series of demonstrations in a multitude of cites against the cuts. I spoke to Mollie Lewington, one of the young women who organised Bristol’s anti-austerity march earlier this month. Regarding child benefit cuts, she said, “When you cut the living standards of mothers, you are decimating the living standards of the next generation, so the cuts aren’t just barbaric, they make absolutely no sense. But really looking at the way the Tory government is prepared to tax secure panic rooms for abuse survivors and cut legal aid is just telling enough of the fact the Tory government isn’t being subtle in hating women.”

The Socialist Workers Party has been
dominated by sexism and rape apologism,
making left wing protests hostile spaces
for women. (The Source: New Statesman)
The election campaign saw a series of perhaps well-intentioned but confused, even condescending, attempts by parties to appeal to women, like Labour’s ‘pink bus’. Overall, the British left appears to be a cacophony of exclusionary voices now; for example the Socialist Workers Party’s presence at protests is intimidating to many, and should not be tolerated. I asked Mollie about this, to which she said, “A lot of the times, when specific women’s issues are brought up, they’re swept aside and there’s very much a feeling of ‘keep that to your feminist meetings, love’, so it’s men that need to change, not oppressed groups like women. When we’re going to these protests, we’re sending a message not only of anger to David Cameron, but of defiance to every dude that once told me a kitchen joke and now wants to sit around and discuss the ‘revolution’.”
Criado-Perez is wrong to argue that political views should be put aside when looking at representation for women in parliament. Her article dismisses the policies that will be enacted by Parliament, which is after all the point of it, by causally writing, “But even if the increase in women does not immediately translate into a positive benefit from a policy perspective,” the election was a good thing for women.
The percentage of female MPs has increased by just 6% since the last election.
(Source: The Fawcett Society)
The decisions MPs make when voting on bills have life-changing implications, and are far more important than whom they are being made by. It makes no sense to argue that a woman is benefitting other women merely by virtue of her presence in Parliament, just as it makes no sense to argue that politicians in general are helping the country by turning up to Parliament. It is the actions of MPs which are important, and thus their political leanings are crucial. 
For example, Nicky Morgan was re-elected as Loughborough’s MP and is continuing her Cabinet role as Minister of Education. In the last government, Morgan voted “moderately against equal gay rights,” and for a plethora of proposals to cut benefits, including the malicious and unnecessary ‘Bedroom Tax’, of which two thirds of those affected are women, all of which and more can be seen on the They Work For You website. Activist Mollie Lewington puts it aptly: “Women don’t always do good stuff, I think that’s such a bizarre feminist idea that they do, and I’d rather have Ed Balls than Andrea Jenkyns,” stating, “a Tory is a Tory.”
A government, regardless of the colour of their rosettes, cannot be seen as helping women until it helps all women, including ethnic minority women, disabled women, working class women, and LGBT women. David Cameron and his colleagues have proven time and time again since their early parliamentary days that they are willing to disregard anyone who is not a blue-blooded, Bullingdon archetype, and it seems unlikely their misogynistic policies will change even with more female MPs in 2015.
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