Next Saturday, 8 March, is International Women’s Day.
As part of the celebration of that, we will be publishing a series of posts over the next days by women – about women.
We kick off today with a piece from Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford – and Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, until last year Shadow Women and Equalities Minister. Yvette was in Leeds NW last night at our sell-out fundraising and social event. She writes here about Labour’s achievements, challenges – and plans.
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Yvette Cooper on Labour and Women
‘Labour has worked hard to promote women in the party
We have 86 women MPs, over 2000 women councillors, and women leading the Labour Lords, Labour in the Scottish Parliament and our MEPs.
Over 50% of our target seats have talented women candidates.
Ed Miliband’s commitment to supporting and promoting women means nearly half the Shadow Cabinet are women.
Labour in Government worked hard for women:
Doubling the number of child care places
3,500 Sure Start centres
Equal rights for part time workers
65% drop in domestic violence incidence
Free breast cancer screening
Equal state pension rights for women
Doubling the level of maternity pay 2 million children lifted out of poverty – and their mothers too.
Thanks to Labour votes in the House of Commons we finally have equal marriage so women can marry the women they love too.
We need an economy that works for working people.
That works for working women.
And that works for caring women too.
Action on the living wage.
A new 10p rate – a tax cut for ordinary people – paid for by a mansion tax
Action on zero hours contracts
Abolishing the hated bedroom tax.
And support for women’s equality, too. 40 years after the Equal Pay Act it is a disgrace that women are still paid less than men for similar jobs.
It’s time big companies started to publish how much they really pay women and men. And if we don’t see progress, we will enact the legislation that the Tories ditched to require it.
We need more support for families.
For Labour that doesn’t mean turning the clock back, penalising second earners, or only helping some married couples.
Nor does it mean expecting women to change and live men’s lives.
It means choice for parents.
Our vision means changing the way the economy and society work – to better recognise working and caring, and by making it easier for parents themselves to work out how to manage.
It’s about dads as well as mums. Grandparents too. Supporting families. Supporting work. And boosting our economy.
Motherhood is a wonderful thing – so we cannot let it be the source for decades of inequality in women’s lives. That’s why we will strengthen the law to stop maternity discrimination.
Why we need to do more to help fathers take time off, and more to help mothers or fathers who do take time out return to work later on.
Especially when children are young, we know parents need choices. Many want to stay home and care for their children when they are very small. And they shouldn’t be penalised for it for the rest of their lives if they do. Many women want to work, many want to work part-time, and many want to see fathers being able to take time off or share care too.
Our priority when the children are smallest must be to support families so they can afford to choose. And as our children grow we need to make it easier for parents to combine work and family life. That means affordable child care.
For the last three years, Labour women’s conference has made clear that child care is top of our agenda. And it must be top of the list for the manifesto too.
Which is why Ed Milliband has set out our plans to make sure child care is available for all primary school children starting at 8 in the morning and until 6pm. Because we know most jobs don’t fit neatly with school hours. And we know parents with early starts, or commutes to work need child care they can rely on.
Some argue that the new feminism is not about politics.
But if we want stronger laws against maternity discrimination, stronger safeguards against domestic violence, more child care, we need the power of politics, the power of women and men standing together, and the power of Government too.
Others say it’s not about party politics, because Tories say they are feminist now too.
But here’s the difference between us and the Tories.
In the end we believe in active politics and active Government to deliver social change. They prefer laissez faire.
In the end the Tories concerns too often are rooted in social conservatism and in women playing traditional roles. Ours are rooted in equality. And we believe in supporting each other.
Winnie McLoughlin – one of the retired councillors in my constituency told me something important.
Winnie is 92 this year and she’s been a member of the Labour Party since the end of the second world war. Winnie became a councillor in 1955 – one of the first women anywhere in the coalfield communities.
I asked her why she went for it when so many people were opposed.
She said that Margaret Bonfield – Labour’s first woman cabinet minister in the post war government – came to Castleford. She held a meeting with local women and she urged them to join the Labour party and to get involved in politics.
So Winnie did. Because another woman encouraged her to do so and had confidence in her that she could.
Women – and men – should reach a hand to other women to encourage them to go forward, encourage them to break new barriers, smash more glass ceilings, make the most of every opportunity. We must stand together for women’s equality.
[This is an edited version of Yvette’s Labour Women’s Conference Speech. The full and original speech is here. Check against delivery. ]