“We must demand that our government stops attacking women’s rights, advocates for equalities internationally and in next weeks budget actually starts delivering for women.”
By Kate Osborne MP
International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women globally. Not only does it aim to educate and raise awareness for women’s equality, but it is vital in calling for continued positive change in the advancement of women’s equality.
Since the first International Women’s Day (IWD), organised by an international socialist women’s conference in 1911, to today, women’s rights have come a long way in the UK. We are no longer the property of our fathers, husbands, brothers. We no longer have to march in the streets, smashing shop windows, and sacrificing our lives, to win the right to vote – yet internationally and even here we still have a very long way to go in the fight for equality.
For IWD 2023 I am attending the UN Summit 67 for the status of women – where we are talking about how we prioritise upholding women and girls’ rights across the UK, the challenge we face in dealing with inequality, sexism and mysogny in the digital world and the fight to keep our hard won rights.
We heard from women in america who are fighting for reproductive rights and access to women’s health services – we heard from journalists who had been threatened for speaking out and we discussed the deterioration of women and girls rights internationally – our access to contraception, safe abortion services and advice is in decline and our rights continually under attack.
I am immensely proud to be the first woman MP for the historic Jarrow Constituency since the great ‘Red’ Ellen Wilkinson, a resilient woman who diligently represented her community with pride. As a young trade-unionist, Ellen helped organise the Suffrage Pilgrimage in 1913, where more than 50,000 women marched to a mass rally in Hyde Park. And, as the MP of Jarrow, Ellen played a key role in organising the historic 1936 Jarrow Crusade, an iconic protest against unemployment and poverty in Tyneside.
Ellen would recognise many of today’s Government failings around things such as low pay, job insecurity, and benefit cuts. In particular, how these issues disproportionately affect women.
We have to keep fighting to defend the rights we have won and to fight for equality internationally – I am proud to be a woman MP during an era of politics when we are seeing a continuous rise of women in politics. Women’s representation matters – but what you do with that representation also matters.
We will see companies and brands with special womens day offers, or posting about their support for IWD – whilst at the same time paying women less and having policies that discriminate against women in the workplace.
We see women ministers actively pursuing policies that make womens everyday lives worse. Women have been failed by a Tory Government that has left them earning less today than they did twelve years ago.
Female Ministers attacking women refugees fleeing for their lives Threatening to strip trans women of legal protections is yet another attempt by the Tory party to create a divisive culture war. Women ministers presiding over drastic fall in the number of rape prosecutions – victims of domestic and sexual violence, failed by both the police and criminal justice system. A long line of women ministers doing untold damage to women in the UK.
I chaired sessions of the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry on menopause and the workplace, and heard first hand how this is impacting so many women in the UK – our report found that when surveyed, 92% of women said that menopause symptoms had affected their ability to work in some way, with 72% saying they feel less able to concentrate, and 70% feeling more stressed.
Yet the government’s response was to ignore our cross bench recommendations and dismiss the realities of women’s health issues.
Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Women and Equalities, criticised the call to make accommodations for menopause in the work environment as being “left wing”.
The conservative chair of the Women and Equalities committee described this as disappointing.
It was the minister who let her politics get in the way of delivering for women – not the cross bench committees thorough and detailed report and recommendations.
The conservative government should not be playing politics with the gross disparities in health inequalities – yet they are – they have no intention of making any intervention at next weeks budget that will make womens lives easier, that will tackle the gender health gap, that will deal with the huge levels of women in poverty.
This government is failing women and failing our communities.
Attending the UN Summit has shown how far we have come in some ways – but how much support and solidarity our sisters need internationally.
In the UK, we must demand that our government stops attacking women’s rights, advocates for equalities internationally and in next weeks budget actually starts delivering for women.
- Kate Osborne is the MP for Jarrow and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow her on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.
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