Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Future of Feminism

Fawcett Seminar for women MPs

24th January 2006


I’d like to warmly thank the Fawcett for organising this seminar.


The first Future of Feminism series that the Fawcett Society organized was in 1999.


Then we had the new influx of women Labour MPs and were about to embark on a whole series of programmes that women had been campaigning for for years

-         The national childcare strategy

-         Extended maternity pay and leave

-         The right to flexible working

-         New laws on domestic violence

to mention just a few


We are now in our third term.

Labour’s women from the 1997 intake have been joined by more from the 2001 and 2005 intake

we are joined by an increase in Liberal Democrat women

and an increase in Conservative women

And now is a good time to take stock.


We already saw the Lib/dem women and the Tory women before 2005 working with Labour women to support the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Bill. And the Equality Bill has seen some really welcome speeches from Tory women that we could never have hoped to see even five years ago.


So we hope that the climate has changed.  And now is a good time to see whether there are more issues where once we were opposed by Labour men and Tory men and women and Lib/dem men and women and see whether we can now identify where we can work together to ensure that we

-         Make Parliament reflect women’s lives and deliver for women


So the first point I’d make is that for us it is first and foremost and must be a matter of principle.


We believe in equality, we are against discrimination.  We want this House to represent women in the country and we want it to deliver for women in this country and we believe is more representative if it is balanced by not only MPs from all parts of the UK but gender balanced by men and women MPs


This is important not just for each individual but for the good of society as a whole.


This is not just the principle of equality, it is also important for democracy.  A balanced team of men and women brings a changed and broadened political agenda.  The arrival of Labour’s 100 women MPs in 1997 and women being appointed to the government has brought new laws, such as the Domestic Violence Act, laws to protect part-time workers and give flexibility at work, and new programmes such as The National Childcare Strategy and Sure Start..


I think it must be an issue of principle.  We cannot, and certainly will not reduce the issue to “targeting” women voters because they hold the key to No 10.  If we do that women will feel that they are just being used by the political parties in a power struggle.


So I would say let’s stick to the principle of equality.


Women’s representation is important for women – not merely for political parties. And it has shown women in the country that parliament is not just a men-only club


The next point I’d make is a point about process.


We in the Labour party were only able to increase the number of women MPs by creating a space where men were excluded and where there was a competition but it was a competition amongst women only – all-women shortlists.


That is hard, but we found it was necessary.  Now the Conservatives have pledged to get more women candidates.  But David Cameron has said he’s against positive discrimination in favour of women.


What I would say is that I hope that the Conservative party will be open about what they are doing and not do it by a stitch up.


Women are turned off the process of politics if

-         It is all men

-         If it is just men targeting women for their votes and

-         I would argue, they would also be turned off politics as a whole if it is felt that women are to be advanced by stealth.  Women deserve better than to be smuggled into parliament in the back of a car under a blanket.


I feel that though we in the Labour party have made good progress, we still have a very long way to go.


Even though we are way ahead of all other parties – we have no reason to gloat.  Still only 25% of the PLP is women and we are determined to get to 50%.  So we are sticking with our all women shortlists.  Parliamentary turnover is slow.  So it takes more than one of even two general elections to make progress.


I’d like to conclude by highlighting some issues for the policy agenda for the future where we have made progress but we still have much further to go:

-         Childcare.  Affordable, high quality, flexible childcare is still an impossible dream for most women.  It needs more investment to put it within reach of all families – that means public investment even though the provision will continue to be in a mixed economy of childcare provision.  And it needs good regulation and inspection to ensure that the quality is such that it really helps children develop as well as keeping them safe and cheerful and keeping their mother sane. That’s not the nanny state – that’s standards for children.

-         Flexible employment.  The work progression/career structure (and this shows starkly in pension provision) of women is still profoundly different from men because of the unequal division of labour in the home.  The labour market needs women.  Women want and need to work.  The labour market must ackhnowledge and accommodate the needs of their children and their role as mother.  The same goes for men if they are doing the main caring – which most of them aren’t. This has got to be minimum standards by law - employment regulation.  The free market will not deliver this on its own. That’s not a burden on business, its minimum standards at work to ensure the ability of parents to do what they need to at home.

-         Equal pay – we will never see choice as a reality in the home when for most couples his earning power is so much more than hers that there is no option but for her to give up, or cut back on her work because of the finances. They don’t have the choice to share the care of the children.  So more progress on equal pay, such as mandatory equal pay audits are necessary for parents to make choices at home. That’s not burden’s on business, or red tape, that’s ensuring that choice in the home is a reality.

-         Violence against women. we have the new laws on domestic violence but we still need greater protection for women in practice.  That means good, practical, local support for women trapped in violent relationships and it means court processes that protect them as they give their evidence.  And it means looking to new threats to women such as the new phenomenom of human trafficking.  And it means being clear about ensuring that the focus is not just on the traffickers and the pimps but also about the men, the british men, who fuel the demand for enslavery of women by paying pimps for sex with trafficked victims.


I hope that we can work together on some of these issues.  We can make more progress if women across the House work together.

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