Last week, The Guardian revealed details of a leaked memo which contained information of future Government plans to "win back female voters". As a woman with an interest for politics, I'm all ears.
The Government are concerned that their promise to be the most 'family friendly government ever' is not being fulfilled, and plan to win back a proportion of lost female votes with a new package of policies aimed directly at women.
Polls showed that support for the Tories from women aged 18 - 24 has dropped from 30% in 2010 to just 18% in 2011, and for the Liberal Democrats from 34% to 8%. Albeit a small demographic, mainly of young women without children who will be unlikely to be affected by these policies, female support for the Coalition has fallen at all levels.
These plans include: (taken from the Guardian online article)
* Frontloading child benefit to help parents struggling with childcare and lost earnings in their children's first years.
* Working towards a "proper" ban on advertising to children
* Introducing personal budgets for maternity services to allow women to shop around for services.
* Developing a strategy - "including possibly cross-party work" - to ensure there are more female candidates for mayoral posts, elected police commissions and local enterprise partnerships.
* Changing plans for the new universal credit to give it to women automatically, instead of allowing the applicant to nominate a household member.
* Setting up a website to allow women to anonymously disclose and compare their salaried with others in their industry.
* Criminalising forced marriage because the "signals sent out by opting not to criminalise is a bad one".
* Holding a No. 10 summit for women in business.
Hurrah, the Government have finally realised there are two sexes in the country! Women do have a place in society - we're not living in the dark ages - and should be respected as a vital voter. In the wake of the recent riots, it was noted by David Cameron that the roots of the problems seen lay within the family structure, and women are surely at the heart of that and therefore must be considered more carefully within government.
Yet, after reading the brief outlines of some of the proposed measures designed to 'win' over more women at the next election, I can't help feeling that a few main groups have been missed in an attempt to group all women together under one umbrella. It appears that, 92 years after women secured the right to vote, politicians still feel that women are an absurd social group to be explicitly targeted, when in turn others such as religion, age and certainly class seem to be of much more importance.
The family woman. The Coalition's promise to be the most 'family friendly government ever' have cleverly assumed that to win over more women, then family policy is the way to go. New laws targeting children and advertising, maternity services and child benefits could be rolled out to women across the country.
However, the implementing most of these policies mean that students, career-driven women, and anyone without a family is more or less ignored in the Government's attempts to pull in female voters, with just a few policies being aimed at those groups who should be targeted equally to mothers.
Would someone care to tell me how a 19-year old career-driven university student is to be affected by these changes? Or my grandmother, retired and living alone? These policies are not aimed at female voters, they are aimed at mothers. According to some studies, up to one in five women in Britain will not have children. A strong twenty percent of women could be left out by most of these policies.
But most of all, where does the woman with a decent salary fit in? Recently in the news, it was estimated that women's salaries wouldn't catch up with men's for almost another century. How do the Government think that a women's wage-comparing website will help with that? Most people are aware that women get paid significantly less than their female counterparts. Those in charge have no desire to change them.
The women in business summit will undoubtedly have an impact on these, and hopefully be the key to changing attitudes in this field. However, just one measure on this list included for the representation of women in business does not go far enough.
As for the lack of representation of women in politics, thank goodness the government have realised something that's been staring everyone in the face for the past... forever. I only have to look to my students' union for proof that women are under-represented. This year just one out of seven full-time sabbatical officer positions is filled by a woman, and in Union Council just a handful of seats will be filled by female elects. This pattern is repeated right to the top, with just 144 women out of 650 MPs elected in 2010.
The Government want to combat this by securing more women into top jobs. In itself, this is a good thing. However, is it really beneficial to engage in a positive discrimination process in which women may be pressured into positions they don't want to be in, or in other cases may occupy a place which could have better been filled by a more competent or better-skilled man?
Surely a better way of aiding women into top careers would be to encourage girls at a younger age to aim high, so they have the confidence and ambitions of their own to attempt to reach the top.
After being told countless times at the last election that women are the key to the future, Yvonne Cooper's message seems to resound in the back of my mind. "Women don't want more spin and communications professionals, they want fundamental changes to government policy. This panicked reaction shows that once again, the Tories are treating the women of this country as an afterthought." It would be nice if the Government actually thought we were they key to the future and had an important role to play in the making of this country rather than as a way to win back votes in time for the next general election.
It appears as if the Government are playing to their own stereotypes. As honourable as I'm sure their intentions will genuinely sound to many mothers, as the memo states - it's all about winning over the votes. By implementing these policies, the Government are drawing all women under one roof and ignoring the wider spectrum. Students, driven career women, middle-aged women with grown up children and the elderly will be ignored in these attempts to win over females. By focusing on the key group of women as 'mothers', the Government is reinforcing the stereotypes it really ought to be trying to break. Whilst I admire the coalition's attempts to be the most "family friendly" government ever, they must remember that in this 'broken Britain' we're living in, not every woman has a happy marriage, kids and a picket fence.
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