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 percentage of female MPs has increased by just 6% since the last election.
(Source: The Fawcett Society)