Conservative Future: Gender, Equality and Opportunity
When it comes to the struggle for gender equality and the development of women’s involvement in politics the Conservative Party has consistently been at the forefront. It was the Conservative Party who produced the first female MP, Nancy Astor, the first leader of any of the main political parties, who then went on to become our first female Prime Minister, as well as the first female leader of any major western democracy, Margaret Thatcher, as well as the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet, Sayeeda Warsi. In fact Emmeline Pankhurst herself, leader of the Suffragette movement, which secured the vote for women in Britain, was a member of the Party, which is also home to the oldest women’s political organisation in the world; the Conservative Women’s Organisation. It is no surprise then that the Conservative Party continues to push for gender equality, and a fair society.
Earlier this year Theresa May, herself a prominent woman in politics as one of the few women to have held the position of Home Secretary, launched an ‘Equality Contract’, which contained details on how we intend to tackle gender inequality. For example, we are committed to enforcing pay audits, whereby any company which loses an employment tribunal case on the grounds of gender pay discrimination will be forced to undergo a compulsory pay audit, covering the entire company. In the past the gender pay gap has been entrenched by ‘gagging clauses’ in contracts, which prevent employees from discussing their salaries with other colleagues, thus limiting the flow of information in regards to the gender pay gap, a clause which the Conservatives will ban. However, although we can help women succeed in business through removing these constraints it is essential that they themselves act to ensure their own success. Women need to make informed and motivated decisions about their own careers and we will help women to do this through a new career service for women of all ages. Frequently women have had to deal with discrimination when it comes to their decision to have children, with many professions not friendly to working mothers, which is why we are committed to providing fifteen hours a week of free childcare for 130,000 disadvantaged children, and a £30 increase in the Child Tax Credit.
Ending violence against women is also a key issue for the Party. Under the previous Labour government the rape conviction level fell sharply and many rape centres were closed. This is why we will fund up to 15 new rape crisis centres, which will be funded in three year cycles, ending the short term funding culture which resulted in the close of so many similar centres during the last government.
As well as supporting all of these policies, and many others, the Conservative Party also helps to develop the involvement of women within its own ranks. The Conservative Women’s Organisation helps to build up women’s profile in the party and ensure that their voices are heard. They have done substantial work on women’s views on many issues which affect women, including forced marriages, prostitution and stalking, as well as many other issues such as policing, drugs, Europe and pensions. It is clear to see that women have played a key part in the evolution of the Conservative Party and remain a driving force within it. A Party which has women so entrenched in its workings and policy development can only be one which is pro women, and which will continue to support female development in all areas of life.
Article by Holly Smith, President of Conservative Future Sheffield, 2009-11.
Edited by Vicky Shreeve.