THE BLOG
08/03/2015 09:43 GMT | Updated 08/05/2015 06:59 BST

Why Women Must Be At the Heart of UK Politics This General Election

From UN Women's Step it Up campaign to the He for She campaign, from Google to Beyonce, the campaigns and celebrations for this year's International Women's Day find their roots in a Copenhagen conference of women trade unionists over a century ago.

But for Clara Zeltkin and the early champions of women's equality who started International Women's Day, the startling thing would not be the distance we've travelled, but how far we yet have to go. Although women make up roughly half of the global population, 70% of the world's poorest people are female. 41million girls are still denied a primary school education and globally, young women are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than they are of war, cancer, malaria and traffic accidents.

Here in Britain too, progress has been too slow. A hundred years on the pay gap is still far too wide, violence towards young women is increasing, and women are being harder hit by this government's policies.

That's why International Women's Day matters more than ever. And here in Britain, its also why women need to be at the heart of our politics and the General Election. Because from women's suffrage to the Equal Pay Act, from child care funding to the law on domestic violence, political change is a vital part of women's equality. And much is at stake for women this year.

Right now, not enough is being done by the Coalition government to improve women's safety, support families or help women get on. Instead too often under David Cameron the clock has been turned back.

Forty years on from the founding of the first women's refuges in Britain, too many of them are under threat or closing altogether.

For one young mother turned away from a refuge whose services had been cut, that meant wandering with her baby from fast food restaurants to internet cafes with nowhere safe to turn until she finally returned home - only to be beaten again that night.

Refuges have faced huge funding cuts - on a single day last year, Women's Aid members were forced to turn away 112 women and 84 children who were trying to leave violent relationships.

On Theresa May's watch, more rapes have been reported to the police, but there's been a huge drop in the number of cases reaching the courtrooms and a drop in convictions, as the justice gap for victims of sexual violence widens. The Tories legal aid reforms are forcing domestic violence survivors near to bankruptcy as they have to pay legal bills to stop violent partners having unsupervised access to their children.

The government is also still turning a blind eye to the worrying increase in violence in teenage relationships. Young people being forced to navigate an increasingly complex world where sexting, access to violent pornography on smartphones and revenge porn is not uncommon in schools. Yet again this week, government ministers have refused to countenance the compulsory Sex & Relationship education we badly need to teach young people zero tolerance of violence in relationships and the importance of respect and sexual consent.

It's not good enough. That's why a Labour government is determined to bring in new legislation to tackle violence against women and girls - with new national standards, a commissioner for domestic and sexual violence, a new National Refuge Fund as well as ongoing commitments to Rape Crisis centres to stop so many women being turned away when they need help. And perhaps most important of all, compulsory SRE in all schools.

But its not just on safety that David Cameron's government have let women down. As exploitative zero hours contracts have shot through the roof, women are most likely to be losing out yet the government are refusing to act. One woman told me how she has to wait for the call each evening to find out whether she'll be working the early or late shift - making it impossible to organise family child care or plan her life.

Despite women earning less and owning less than men, women have been hit four times harder by George Osborne's tax, tax credit and benefit changes. Out of the £26bn he has raised from Budget changes since 2010, a whopping £22bn has been taken from women's pockets. Childcare costs have soared by 30% since 2010. The lifelines so many families relied on have disappeared - there are now 720 fewer Sure Start centres than there were in 2010.

From opposition, Labour women have already been working hard to make a difference to the lives of women and girls. Just this week, we've seen the government bow to pressure from Labour's shadow minister for women and equalities Gloria De Piero MP, whose tireless campaigning on equal pay means that big companies will now need to publish details of what they pay men and women.

But we need a Labour government to go further. We need a Labour government so we can freeze energy prices to help wages go further and raise the minimum wage because we know that 60% of those who will benefit from this increase will be the lowest paid women. We need a Labour government so we can stop employers using exploitative zero hours contract, introduce stronger laws against maternity discrimination and get more paid paternity leave for dads. We need a Labour government so we can increase free childcare for working parents with three and four years and introduce a legal guarantee of a childcare place for parents of primary school children. We need a Labour government so we can bring in new and stronger laws against violence and abuse. And we need a Labour government so we can scrap the awful bedroom tax once and for all.

Until 2010, each generation of women witnessed more progress towards equality for their daughters - the right to vote, the right to an equal education, family allowance, legalising abortion, the Equal Pay Act, championed by Barbara Castle and stronger laws on rape and domestic violence. Under the last Labour Government we saw the doubling of childcare places, 3,500 Sure Start centres, equal rights for part time workers, equal state pensions rights for women and the doubling of maternity pay.

So we have to stop the clock turning back and be ready to do so much more now. That's why we're making sure women's equality is at the heart of Labour's plans for government so we can continue the campaigns started by our great, great grandmothers over a century ago.