Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

International Womens Day Conference - 8/03/2011

It is important that we get together as women to celebrate International Women's Day. To take stock of the progress we have made and to show our determination to make more progress as women, for women, both here and abroad.

We have made progress and we must remember how that was achieved.

We must keep in mind that we are a party that believes in equality and so we don't accept that women are paid less than men.  Women are not less committed, less hard-working and less intelligent as men.  We don't accept women's unequal pay and we know it is rooted not in women being less valuable at work but rooted in discrimination.

We should be mindful that it is Labour and only Labour that is the party of equality. It is only Labour that cares about and will deliver on equality.  And only through the Labour Party - in Wales and Scotland, in councils and in government - can we make further substantive progress.

We need to keep in mind that we don't accept that there are some issues where women suffer which you can't do anything about.  So we don't accept that women have to be subjected to domestic violence and be killed by their husband or partner.

We need to keep in mind that it is women who will be the engine of our own advance. We will find that on all issues there are men who will support women and that is important. But the women's agenda must be led by women. To have men leading the empowerment of women is a contradiction in terms.  That is why it is so ludicrous and impossible for the government DFID team - which is men only - to have at the heart of their agenda "the empowerment of women". 

We need to keep in mind that sometimes you cannot advance without a struggle - that you have to be prepared to have a row and fight for the change that you need.  And that sometimes means that have to face up to controversy even within our own party.  All woman shortlists will always be controversial.  But they are still needed.

We need to keep in mind the heroic struggles of our sisters in the developing world. Their objectives are the same as ours. But the obstacles they face are so much greater.

Don't be overly reasonable.  One person's unreasonable demand may just be a simple question of justice.  And we need to set our sights high.  What do we think is right and fair.  And settle for nothing less.  So for example, do we think we should ever return to a men only leadership in the Labour Party. If we don't want to then we should press for a rule change so that, like some of our European sister parties we have a rule that guarantees that there is always a woman in the leadership. The review that Peter Hain MP is leading gives us the chance to make that change at this year's conference.

We need to be gratified at the progress that we have made.  Minimum wage, double maternity leave, Sure Start children's centres and new laws on domestic violence and equality.  We should be gratified but never grateful.  We struggled for that and although we have made progress we need to struggle on as we still have a long way to go.

 We should be mindful that we are a movement - and we are stronger when we all work together - there are women in councils, in the Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly, and in the Trade Unions, as well as Labour Party members, GLA members, MPs and Members of the European Parliament - we are a broad movement and make most progress when we all work together.  And I hope you will all be vigorous part of campaign up to May 5th to show the government that they have no mandates for the jobs that are being axed and the services that are being crushed.

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