My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected immediately. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

The Struggle for Equality

At the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee here at the parliament the other day we were discussing the 2008 report on 'Equal Opportunities for men and women'. Many of my colleagues on the committee expressed their absolute frustration that for yet another year the pay gap between men and women has remained infuriatingly static. Our work trying to give equal opportunities and equal outcomes to every member of society is certainly an uphill struggle.

Back from committee this led me to think that it is 80 years since women won the right to the vote in the UK and with that the right to a political life. But women are still denied the top jobs. In Europe, as I have blogged recently, the senior jobs are consistently awarded to men and that trend looks set to continue into the next term. In the UK our Tory colleagues have only paid lip-service to the promotion of women: in the absence of both Gordon Brown and David Cameron at Prime Minister's Question Time in April Harriet Harman, as deputy leader stood in for Gordon Brown but on the Tory side David Cameron was replaced, not by his deputy leader Theresa May, but by William Hague with May demurely seated behind. As Harman rightly pointed out, this looked like women should be seen but not heard on the Tory side.

It is 40 years since the Equal Pay act meant that women and men should be paid an equal salary for equal work. However, the pay gap in the UK is still alarming. In full-time work women get paid 17% less than men and in part-time a shocking 38% less. The UK's pay gap is fairly much in line with the pay gap between the sexes that is felt right across the EU.

It is 20 years since the first black female MP, Diane Abbott entered the House of Commons. To date there have only been three black, female MPs sitting in the Commons. Dawn Butler, MP for Brent South, has experienced racist and sexist attitudes within the Commons itself. One such incident the Tory (it's always them isn't it?) MP David Heathcote-Amory questioned why Butler was on the members' section of the terrace asking if she was an MP. When she replied that she was he said "they're letting anybody in nowadays". He later denied that his comments were racially motivated but it is hard to see how they could be interpreted otherwise. In the European Parliament there are only four non-white female MEPs out of a total of 785.

So it is obviously with pleasure that I welcome Harriet Harman's Equalities Bill. This legislation is not the beginning of this is issue in the UK, and it is certainly not the end, but another step in an 80 year old journey that will hopefully lead us to a truly equal society. In the UK we serve as a 'best practice' example to our European colleagues on a number of issues my hope is that in the future we will lead the way on equality as well.

No comments: