The independent London newspaper

Lets have action to close the gender gap

08 February, 2018

Emmeline Pankhurst photo: wikimedia commons

• WE have a long way to go to become a gender equal country.

It’s not just the disturbing stories about sexual harassment at Westminster, predatory behaviour at the Presidents Club, or the rising levels of violence against women and girls, that tell us so.

It’s in the lived experiences of women reflected in the UK’s pitiful position in the Global Gender Gap Index 2017. Number 15 might not seem too bad but, to give some context, a country like Rwanda, with a recent history of catastrophic carnage, is at number four. Iceland is more than just beautiful, topping the index as the most gender-equal place on Earth.

This week we commemorate 100 years of the first women having the vote here. We celebrate wonderful women who endured beatings and torture so women like me could exercise their democratic rights and represent their communities.

Emmeline Pankhurst once remarked: “we are here not because we are law breakers. We are here in our efforts to become law makers”. Yet 100 years on and only 30 per cent of the country’s lawmakers are women.

Local government isn’t much better. Only 33 per cent of councillors and 17 per cent of council leaders are women. The figures are even worse for judges and CEOs.

Despite legislation being passed almost half a century ago, we are still fighting for equal pay. And the battle to remove abortion from the criminal code and have it treated like a health care procedure still goes on.

While we are struggling to close the gender gap as a country, Camden Council is doing a much better job. It has been led by two consecutive female leaders and the deputy leader, leader of the opposition and 43 per cent of all councillors are women.

But it’s not just in terms of representation that the council is leading the way. In the last seven years Camden has seen its funding halved but has increased spending on domestic violence and protected its women’s refuges.

We know austerity disproportionately impacts women and with further cuts afoot it will be even more important to protect these vital areas. Cuts to public services affect us all regardless of income, age, ethnicity, or gender. But the impact can be profound for some more than others.

In Belsize women relate their fears about moped-mugging while walking home alone. Often the advice is not to use your phone in public; but for many women a phone conversation is a talisman against the hidden dangers of a dark or secluded street.

This was recently bought home to me when a close friend was moped-mugged on a Camden street. She saw the mugger off, in the true spirit of a suffragette, and came away with her phone and a bruised arm before proceeding to attend a Labour meeting.

I hope it won’t be another 100 years before we become a gender-equal country that rivals Iceland in more than just football.

In Camden, with our historic links to the suffragettes, the best way to honour those proud, free-thinking and brave women is to become the country’ s first truly gender-equal borough.

Labour candidate for Belsize ward


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