The future of the left since 1884

Steps to equality

When it comes to equality, the Labour party has been pioneering. We are the party of the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act. It was Labour which repealed the homophobic Section 28 legislation and...


When it comes to equality, the Labour party has been pioneering. We are the party of the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act. It was Labour which repealed the homophobic Section 28 legislation and brought in civil partnerships. We pushed the Tories on LGBT equality and they needed our votes in parliament to get through equal marriage rights.

And when it comes to women in parliament, Labour still rules the roost. Labour has more women MPs than the other parties combined. Sadly though, there are still more male MPs in the House of Commons today than the total number of women MPs in this country’s history. Clearly we still have some way to go – but with organisations like the Labour Women’s Network offering training, and with all-women shortlists, we are working hard to get equal numbers of men and women Labour MPs.

But away from the landmark legislation and the progress on women MPs, there is something we need to put in place to ensure gender equality across all we do as a Labour government in waiting. Something that’s very simple, yet evidenced to be effective.

When Jeremy Corbyn spoke to Labour Women’s Conference the weekend before last, he made two important announcements which seem to have been largely overlooked. They are not flashy announcements, but for those with a fascination for the architecture of gender equality in policy, they are fundamental – and very exciting. In case you missed them, here is what Jeremy said:

“I have committed to the Labour Party publishing a regular ‘gender audit’ of our policies to better communicate the positive impact all our policies will have on moving us towards a more equal society.

And I have committed to consult on establishing a high level, strategic Women’s Advisory Board supporting the work of the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and linked to the leader’s office to ensure gender equality is at the heart of all our policies.”

For decades the women’s movement has been calling on the government to embed gender audits as part of the policy process. The idea is that by requiring all policy to be considered from a gender perspective, we ensure that gender equality becomes a focus of every area of government, and that policy developers are required to acknowledge that no area of policy is gender-neutral.

One key tool of gender auditing is gender responsive budgeting. The first women’s budget statement was produced by the Australian Labour government back in 1984. Since then it has become a widely used tool to undertake gender analysis of policy across the world. Here in the UK, the Women’s Budget Group has been producing a women’s budget statement for many years, so there is existing expertise in the women’s movement for the Labour party to work with.

And the expertise of organisations like the Women’s Budget Group is also part of what makes the second announcement so important. Sometimes, when you listen to the gender equality debate, you’d be forgiven for thinking we don’t know what works – but we do. There is now a strong research base that demonstrates what has helped make progress on gender equality in different communities and countries. The OECD has invested strongly in identifying strategies that work, and across the world feminist academics have been conducting research on how best to further gender equality. There’s even a portal of proven gender intervention strategies hosted by the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. In developing new policy for the Labour party, it makes sense for us to reach out to experts in the field. That means we can start from demonstrated good practice, rather than reinventing the wheel. In fact, you wonder why every shadow secretary wouldn’t establish something similar as a structure to engaging key academics, activists, and organisations.

Those who’ve been around a while in feminist public policy may be thinking that this approach is really just a statement of the obvious. But that’s the beauty of it. If we know what works, why not learn from it rather than starting from a blank page?

Image: Jaime Gonzalez



Cat Smith MP

Cat Smith is the Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood and the shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs.


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