It’s no secret that seven years of Conservative austerity measures have disproportionately affected women. Since 2010, when David Cameron came into office, 17% of women’s refuges have been closed, women are set to be £1003 worse off per year by 2020, and overall we’re said to be bearing 86% of the burden of cuts. Meanwhile, across the pond sits a president determined to slash reproductive rights.
In light of all this, the Labour party is keen to set itself apart.
Days before ‘the most important election in a generation’, Stylist met with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, as he was gearing up to address the town at a rally in the local youth centre. While crowds gathered outside, we sat down to discuss his manifesto and its impact on women.
Discussing a manifesto of which he is clearly proud, Corbyn reaffirmed his commitment to gender equality, with a focus on closing the pay gap, improving education and increasing access to childcare. There’s little doubt that these so-called women’s issues are at the forefront of Labour’s mind – and yet questions surrounding the role of women within the party itself have continued to surface.
“I’m the first leader that has consistently appointed more women than men into shadow cabinet and front bench positions,” Corbyn says, and it’s true. Under his leadership, the Labour party has achieved a 50/50 split in gender representation.
However, it’s also an unavoidable truth that women held none of the top three great offices of state in Corbyn’s first cabinet, and the party has still never had a female leader. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have had two – a fact that Harriet Harman has been keen to point out.
The veteran Labour politician, who is standing for re-election in Camberwell and Peckham after 35 years advocating for women’s rights, told Stylist recently that “embarrassing misogyny” was to blame for the fact Labour has never had a female leader.
“It’s not OK that Labour’s never had a woman leader, particularly as we do have more Labour women MPs than all the other parties put together, and we regard ourselves as the party of women, and of equality,” she said.
Replying to Harman’s statement, Corbyn says that he will continue to appoint women into significant positions within the party. On the subject of Labour’s lack of women leaders, he jokes: “I’m a man, I obviously admit that. It’s pretty obvious. Can’t change that!”
The Labour leader also addressed the argument that he should be doing more to tackle abuse within the party, specifically the online trolling directed at female MPs. The issue surrounding abuse and the Labour party has been raised by several female MPs including Harman, Angela Eagle and Jess Philips. Phillips, according to the Huffington Post, appealed to Corbyn to distance himself from grassroots organisation Momentum after she was trolled by members.
Harman told Stylist: “It should be one strike and you’re out. It’s not good enough for Jeremy to say, ‘I don’t do it, I don’t agree with it, I don’t condone it.’ As a leader you have to say, ‘This is what I’m going to do to stop it.’”
Corbyn rebuffs the suggestion that he hasn’t done enough to support female MPs who are being abused online. “I’ve dealt with every single one of those problems,” he says. “I have made it very, very clear, abuse has no place whatsoever in our party or in our society – on social media or anywhere else.
“Women must be as happy and comfortable in the Labour party as men must be,” he continues. “And I think they are.”
Watch the full interview with Jeremy Corbyn below.
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