It started, really, with a pink bus. Or, rather, a tour of the UK Labour revealed it was embarking on back in February that was meant to help them gauge women’s voting preferences in a very tight election, or win votes in key marginal seats, but descended, for obvious reasons, into a debate about colour.
The Guardian asked: is pink patronising? 83% of its readers said yes. As discussed on Libertine, separating “pink” topics from the larger spectrum of political issues can end up ghettoising women rather than including them in the discussion.
In the 2010 general election only 51% of young people aged 18 to 25 voted and less than half of those were women. This stat prompted the Youth Media Agency to crowdfund for a campaign, the XXVote, which has been encouraging young women to use their vote in #GE2015. Overall, turnout among women has been in steady decline, from 78% in 1992, just slightly more than men, to 64% in 2010, where there were fewer female voters than male.
But is it really those ill-judged, out-of-touch efforts like the striking pink voting wagon that mean UK women aren’t skipping straight down to exercise this hard-won freedom?
Austerity heavy or austerity light
Among the two main parties, this election has been fought on the assumption that money is the only question, and that austerity, or cuts, are the only answer. That’s despite the fact that economist after economist has said that cuts have slowed down our economic recovery, an economic recovery that was needed thanks to an under-regulated and frankly irresponsible financial services sector.
It’s perhaps old news that cuts to public services hit women hardest and that they are felt most harshly by those in receipt of benefits to top-up their pay packet, or by those who can’t work, often because they look after small or older family members. And somewhere along the line, that could mean you’re affected too. The difference between the two main parties has been nicknamed, ‘austerity heavy’ or ‘austerity light’, which hardly sound like inspiring choices.
Getting an F on gender equality
Both the Labour Party and the SNP have created women’s manifestos, but, in the same way as gender equality talks are often only attended by women, it’s difficult not to feel that this presents women as a niche issue. In its analysis of the manifestos, the Women’s Budget Group, a network of 300 academics, activists and campaigners have given all of the parties an ‘f’ for proposing radical policies to impact gender equality.
“In terms of measuring up to a Plan F for a caring and sustainable economy that would benefit the majority of people and reverse the damage caused by austerity, nearly every party falls short,” says Sue Himmelweit, WBG management committee member .
“Some support important measures such as the abolition of the bedroom tax and commitments to childcare and carers. Some of the parties will commit to funding essential public services by increases in income tax for the rich, with additional tax on the most expensive properties and bank levies.
“Others, principally the Conservatives, are cleaving to austerity and pursuing further cuts in social security and public services, with only the Greens basing their policies on substantial expansion of care by the public sector and, along with the SNP, opposed to any further benefit cuts or caps but against the costly renewal of Trident.”
While our beloved NHS has been ‘ringfenced’ by the two main parties, cuts to local councils mean cuts to social care provision, which means the elderly and vulnerable end up in A&E, which means, yep, more cost and pressure on hospitals. And that means more work, disproportionately done by women, care giving, because we’re ‘just better at it’.
Women’s Equality Party
According to UK Feminista, women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, earn 10% of the income and own 1% of the property. Economically, we appear to all be getting pretty screwed. And without proper representation, perhaps it’s no surprise women are sidelined. Out of 650 elected MPs in the UK, only 143 of them are female, and there are currently only five women Cabinet Ministers. Worldwide, less than 20% of MPs are women.
Just this week, Sandi Toksvig, Cambridge graduate, writer, BBC radio presenter and comedian, clearly decided that enough was enough and has launched a full-blown Women’s Equality Party. Sisters Uncut, meanwhile, took the debate out of politicians’ hands by taking to the roof of the London Councils building for a peaceful protest against cuts to domestic violence services.
Figures from September last year found we have a 32% shortfall in the number of refuge spaces needed for women in England, which rises to 48% in the South East. While again, it may not be you who’s turned away tonight, one in four women, and one in six men, will be a victim of domestic violence during their lifetime. Two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner, according to the NHS.
Stepping up to the polls
You may feel uninspired by the debates or unrepresented by the parties, or are just damn confused, but this election will prove that the system is broken if no one party can win, and that means change is on the way.
A new voting system means more coalitions, more compromise, and more participation from the public. We get the politics and the politicians we deserve, in many ways, and if you’re only dipping in in the final week and are disappointed by what you see, you have to be part of shaping the discussion.
There has, actually, never been more analysis, opportunities for comparison and tools to help you decide your vote. But maybe there’s just so much coverage, spin and soundbites that it makes your decision even harder.
Wear pink if you please, vote if and how you choose, but this election is the beginning of the end of two-party politics, and we’ll all need to step up more in its wake.
Kirsty is a senior reporter at Tech City News where she covers startup news, she podcasts for the New Economics Foundation @weeklyeconpod, and is the Hackney Green Party’s campaigns officer. Image credit: CC markus spiske