Posts Tagged ‘women’

Women and gender in the 2019 party manifestos

Claire Annesley, Francesca Gains, and Anna Sanders offer an overview of manifesto pledges concerning women. They conclude that, while most parties are taking the diversity of women and their interests seriously, it is difficult to judge the value of their offer. 

Half of the electorate are women. Research has consistently shown that women are more likely to be floating voters and to make their minds up on how to vote later than men. Securing women’s votes is increasingly recognised as essential for parties as they seek to consolidate their voting base and capture undecided voters. This is something we have observed in our analyses of the 2015 and 2017 manifesto offers for women.

For the 2019 General Election, we audited the party manifestos of all GB-wide parties to see what they offer women. Quite crudely, we counted the number of times ‘women’ and ‘gender’ were mentioned in each manifesto. This in itself was quite revealing, but by no means tells us the whole story. Some mentions of ‘women’ were just headings, not commitments, and, in the case of the Conservative manifesto, one policy to benefit women was repeated three times.

So we then looked again to identify exactly what is being offered when ‘women’ or ‘gender’ is mentioned, and to which women parties were trying to focus their pitch. This is also imperfect because it only captures manifesto pledges that specifically identify women as beneficiaries or have gender equality as the goal. It does not identify policies that we know would particularly benefit women but are not labelled in that way. For example, Labour’s pledge of a ‘Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers’ would be of particular benefit to women as they are more likely to be low paid, but this is not flagged in the manifesto. Caveats aside, here’s what we found.

Which women?

All parties – except Brexit – show a substantial awareness of the need to address women voters directly and in all their diversity. Some policies are clearly intended for all women but many are targeting specific groups. Research shows that age is a particular issue in how women vote, with younger women being more likely to support public spending and oppose austerity. Working women thus receive a fair deal of attention, with the Conservatives focusing on supporting female entrepreneurs and self-employed women. Labour also offers measures to tackle employment protection for pregnant women, and an increase in paid maternity leave to 12 months. The Greens specifically address women of childbearing age with pledges on safe and affordable abortion, free birth control, and high-quality maternity care. There are also some manifesto pitches for older women, such as WASPI women (below).

All parties except Brexit have something to offer vulnerable and marginalised women with commitments to take action on violence against women and girls, pledges to establish misogyny as a hate crime (Greens and Labour), support for women in the criminal justice system (Greens and Lib Dems), and women with learning disabilities (Lib Dems). LGBTQ women are addressed by Labour, Greens, and Lib Dems with commitments to reform the Gender Recognition Act (Labour), remove the spousal veto so that married trans people can acquire their gender recognition certificate without having to obtain permission from their spouse (Lib Dem and Greens), and offer asylum to people fleeing the risk of violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identification (Lib Dems).

Notably, all parties – again except Brexit – address the status of women internationally, offering policies to consider gender equality and women’s empowerment in trade deals (Conservatives), provide funding for women’s grassroots organisations internationally (Labour), ‘increase the proportion of aid paid to individuals through electronic cash transfers, providing regular monthly payments to women in the developing world’ (Greens) and ‘pursue a foreign agenda with gender equality at its heart’ (Lib Dems).

What for women?

All parties – except Brexit – present a detailed programme of how they would reduce gender inequalities that persist in resources and status. Among these are some ‘big ticket items’: costly policies which, along with promises around the level of the minimum wage, tax thresholds, and the extension of free childcare, have a crucial impact on women’s economic independence and security.

  • Brexit: A review of the situation for WASPI women.
  • Conservatives: A promise to fund ‘more’ free childcare; leave for carers extended to one week, and a policy to support pension payments for those earning between 11k and 12k, the majority of whom are women.
  • Greens: Universal Basic Income, a weekly payment for everyone, replacing the current benefits system, starting with WASPI women and phased in for all residents by 2025.
  • Labour: Increasing paid maternity leave from nine to 12 months, doubling paternity leave to four weeks, increasing paternity pay, and extending pregnancy and menopause protection; and full compensation for WASPI women.
  • Liberal Democrats: Free, high-quality childcare for children of working parents from nine months; increased paternity leave to six weeks, and compensation for women affected by pension changes in line with the pension ombudsman report.

As well as the maternity leave benefits listed above, the 2019 manifestos have many more policies relating to ‘status issues’ which directly address inequalities that arise from women’s status as women and bodily integrity, such as abortion rights, actions on violence against women and girls and representation. With the exception of the Brexit Party, all parties in varying degrees address status issues:

  • Conservatives: Pass the Domestic Abuse Bill and pilot domestic abuse courts; continue to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG); promote women’s empowerment in free trade deals.
  • Green: Reverse funding cuts for women refuges; high-quality maternity care, support for access to abortion and free birth control in the EU; measures to promote diversity in political representation and representation on boards; make misogyny a hate crime and penal reforms to introduce women’s centres; electronic aid payments to women in developing countries.
  • Labour: Protection for pregnant workers and women going through the menopause; introduce a workers protection agency around equal pay; appoint a Commissioner for Violence against Women and recognise misogyny as a hate crime; support for international programmes addressing gender inequality, increased funding women’s grassroots organisations, and an ombudsman to examine abuse in the development sector.
  • Liberal Democrats: 40% board representation; foreign policy agenda with gender equality at the heart; protection for women and girls in trade deals; extend reproductive rights and protect against VAWG; set national target to address early deaths of women with learning disabilities; measures addressing VAWG; introduction of gender neutral uniforms in schools.

Additionally there are some ‘blueprint’ measures. These are policies that address the need for overarching gender equality legislation and administrative or bureaucratic resources to oversee progress on equality. These measures are not ever going to appeal to floating women voters. However, the introduction of ‘blueprint’ policies such as the Equal Pay Act (1974) and the Equality Act (2010) fundamentally and profoundly alter women’s rights and measures of redress. Yet in this area, neither Brexit nor the Conservatives promise such blueprint measures.

  • Greens: Measures to address the gender pay gap.
  • Labour: Establishment of a new Department for Women and Equalities with a full time Secretary of State, a modernised National Women’s Commission; Regulation for large firms on equality measures; action on the gender pay gap.
  • Liberal Democrats: Extend Equality Act to large firms, and action on gender pay gap.

Our view

It is clear for this election, all parties (though not the Brexit Party) are taking the diversity of women and their interests seriously. They are either offering policies which will benefit women and/or promote gender equality, or they are including promises to do so. Yet it is impossible to form a quick judgement on which party will most successfully attract women voters or to assess the value of their offer.

First, some measures are not specifically targeted at women but we know that they will have a beneficial impact on women – not least because women earn less and do more unpaid caring roles. Both Labour’s living wage promise and the Conservatives’ lifting of the National Insurance threshold will make an impact on women’s incomes if implemented, as will the Liberal Democrats’ promise to considerably extend free childcare.

Second, there is a huge difference between the intent described, ranging from commitments to legislate or regulate, to more ambiguous promises to improve, review, or consider. The Conservative manifesto in particular pledges few concrete measures for women but rather many promises to review or consider, without commitments.

Third, there may be growing scepticism among voters about whether manifesto pledges truly lead to concrete action. At the best of times, governments don’t always deliver what is in manifestos and compromise will inevitably have to be made in the event of another hung parliament or coalition. Economic experts are also sceptical about the affordability of party manifestos and voters will be too. As the Resolution Foundation and the IFS point out, both Conservative and Labour will face fiscal problems in implementing their policy promises.

Fourth, we know from previous research that gender equality promises included in Queen’s Speeches from 1945 onwards – such as redistributive benefits, or equal pay measures – do not reach governmental agendas when the economy is not performing well.

Finally, of course, Brexit might continue to trump everything.

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About the Authors

Claire Annesley is Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex.

 

 

 

Francesca Gains is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Manchester.

 

 

Anna Sanders is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Manchester.

 

 

 

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay/Public Domain.

Brexit’s toxic masculinities are poisoning gender politics in the General Election

Women are more likely to say they ‘don’t know’ whether Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is good or bad for the country. Roberta Guerrina (University of Bristol), Toni Haastrup (University of Stirling), Katharine Wright (Newcastle University) and Annick Masselot (University of Canterbury) argue that this reflects the way that Brexit has normalised a form of toxic masculinity that damages the public sphere.

As the country prepares for its first winter election in 96 years, pundits are still trying to make sense of what appears to be an increasingly volatile electorate. This general election has been called as a result of the government’s failure to get agreement for the revised Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and as the biggest political crisis the country has seen in a lifetime, Brexit is inevitably shaping many of the debates. And just as Brexit’s gendered nature was apparent from early in the referendum campaign, questions about “Johnson’s women problem” and the large number of women MPs choosing to step away from politics have informed the 2019 General Election campaign.

luciana berger jo swinson
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson with Luciana Berger (behind, to her right) as the latter announced her defection to the party, September 2019. Berger has been the object of death threats. Photo: Steve Nimmons via a CC-BY-NC 2.0 licence

Women gained the right to vote just one hundred years ago, yet their full electoral citizenship remains elusive. This is even more so for women from lower socio-economic backgrounds and women of colour. The issue of women’s political participation and engagement should be a concern for us all, as they are indicators of the health of a democracy.

So how should we approach integrating gender into electoral discussions? As a starting point, it is important to acknowledge that gender scholars have consistently been highlighting the deeply gendered nature of political structures, voter activation, and more recently Brexit. Gender gaps in political participation, engagement and self-efficacy have been the subject of several studies that have sought to unpack country-level differences, gender-generational gaps, and the way political parties try to win women’s votes. Pundits have accordingly (re)discovered gender as a variable for analysis in trying to predict the results of the General Election. For those familiar with the literature and debates, this analysis very much feels like plus ça change.

But this time something is different. This election feels different for the magnitude, the scope and the long-term impact it will have on the country. In many ways, the politics driving the election are part of a continuum from the 2016 EU referendum campaign through to the 2017 election and beyond – reflecting a failure to engage women’s interests and concerns about the future of the country, with or without Brexit.

A YouGov survey run on 20-21 October 2019 is quite instructive in this regard. On questions about attitudes towards Johnson’s new deal with the EU, the most interesting results are to be found in the “don’t know” category. On the question of whether Johnson’s deal was good or bad, 44% of women and 25% of men respondents said they “did not know or had not seen enough to express a judgement”. This pattern appears consistently throughout the survey on key issues, e.g. whether there should be another referendum.

There are two ways to interpret the data. It could be taken as a measure of women’s lower levels of political engagement and self-efficacy over high salience political issues; and, in turn, it could be construed as a marker of men’s higher levels of political competence. Alternatively, it can be seen as the performance of masculinity in the public space which requires decisiveness and assertiveness on high salience issues. It is this latter explanation that raises more interesting questions about how the process of Brexit has normalised a form of toxic masculinity that has become manifest in a highly divisive political discourse. By changing the focus of attention from women to men, we can start to open a space to talk about the performance of masculinities in the context of Brexit – because the 2019 election is, after all, about Brexit.

Women’s votes matter in the 2019 General Election, even if the timing of the election has contributed towards their disenfranchisement, making them less likely to vote. A winter election means that door-to-door canvassing and the act of voting itself will largely be conducted in the dark, making women less likely to open their door or go to the polling station. Yet we would expect campaigns to target them directly, given recent polls show that women are more likely to register “I don’t know” in relation to voting intentions, trust in the government and views on Brexit more generally. Despite a few token initiatives, there is little evidence of a concerted effort by any party to consider women’s interests in order to rally their votes. For example, a recent BBC report found that while campaign targeting on social media is deeply gendered (with, for example, Brexit Party promotions showing up disproportionately for men), there was no evidence of any party specifically seeking to target women voters.

The few nods there have been to women voters have proven problematic because they have instrumentalised as “feminist language” to achieve political goals. Jo Swinson’s #debateher campaign did it to push for her inclusion in the first televised election debate and in doing so sought to capture women voters. On Brexit more broadly, criticisms that the process of Brexit has largely marginalised women’s interests and voices have been addressed through initiatives such as Esther McVey’s ‘Ladies for Leave’ campaign, which launched in February 2019. Moreover, none of these campaigns have engaged issues related to Black and other ethnic minority women.

This narrow focus on “winning the women’s vote” relies on superficial analyses that treats women as a homogeneous group. It also makes a number of assumptions about the nature of political engagement, efficacy, and voter behaviour. Women have been the focus of the most analysis of the gender gap in politics. In this way, it is women whose political engagement and participation are called into question. Yet various forms of masculine behaviours are questionable, but remain unchecked.

A more nuanced assessment of the “consistency of the gender gap” in voting intention turns the question upside down, and in so doing challenges the way current debates reproduce a very narrow definition of citizenship and participation. Rather than fixating on women’s hesitancy to express a fixed view on high salience issues, it is perhaps more important to ask questions about agenda setting, interest representation and efficacy. What this means is to challenge the view that “making sense of politics” is easy and can be easily captured by soundbites. Such an analysis requires detailed reflection about the nature of the message, the way campaigns seek to seize elusive voters, and how this interacts with a complex web of socio-economic structures. To do anything less is to contribute to the growth in the “politics of bullshit” and the hollowing-out of political debate.

The media has also fallen short in the way it treats the significance of women voters. In the “urgency” of dealing with the political complexity of Brexit, commentators are only treating gender, and women voters and politicians, as contextual variables and backdrop to the power play currently dominating British politics. This underscores a deeper and more pervasive problem where the focus of the discussion is on how to maximise vote shares, rather than understanding women’s political engagement and activation.

The 2016 EU referendum was a critical juncture for British and EU politics and in many, and diverse ways, it has successfully activated a large section of the population. But it has not fostered higher levels of women’s political efficacy. The 2019 General Election is shaped by this backdrop. The conduct of political leaders, Theresa May’s ‘glass cliff’ moment in the summer of 2019 and women’s withdrawal from Westminster politics as a result of increased threats of violence all point of the crystallisation of a form of identity politics that helps to exclude traditionally under-represented groups from sites of power.

Brexit not only downgraded the importance of gender equality in the UK, a process that had already started with austerity, it entrenched the gendered and racialised nature of the British polity. Moving beyond a simplistic view of women voters requires an engagement with ongoing debates about gender, intersectionality and citizenship. Moreover, this process has also brought into question the idea of the EU as a gender actor – as the urgency of Brexit pushes all other issues to the sidelines, including equality in external and external affairs.

This post represents the views of the authors and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.

Roberta Guerrina is a Professor in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. 

Toni Haastrup is a Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Stirling.

Katharine Wright is a Lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University. 

Annick Masselot is a Professor at University of Canterbury Business & Law (New Zealand).

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