Thursday, 9 December 2010

Featherstone, the fairweather 'feminist'

On a day when there was, to quote Johann Hari, 'shameful massive vandalism in Westminster: the Tories and Lib Dems voted to smash up our universities & chance of poor kids getting on', there was at least one thing to have a bit of a laugh about, albeit a slightly bitter one.

Yesterday there was a women's protest about how tuition fee rises would affect women, outside Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone's surgery. Ms. Featherstone was asked to comment about this by the local paper. Claiming she hadn't decided what way she was going to vote (she voted for the increase today - surprise, surprise), she added that the women were 'demonstrating in the wrong place' and that 'there is no one more feminist than me.'

(I'll leave a little gap here whilst you compose yourselves...)

(Have you quite finished laughing? Good).

Now, there are lots of people with differing views who define themselves as a feminist. But taking a look at how the cuts will affect women, let's consider whether someone who is a 'feminist' would be happy to go along with these measures...

- CUTS TO JOBS - Two-thirds of public sector workers are women, with women accounting for 73% of the local government workforce and 77% of the NHS workforce. Women will be forced out of the labour market in larger numbers than men and expected to take on the care of loved ones – children, elderly relatives, partners. Part-time and hourly paid jobs in which women are over-represented are also likely to be the first to go. 40% of ethnic minority women live in poverty and this figure is likely to rise as unemployment increases.

- CUTS IN SOCIAL SERVICES AND BENEFITS - women rely on benefits twice as much as men do. For example, cuts in Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits, Child Benefit, Housing Benefit and linking pensions to the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index will disproportionately affect women. The two most vulnerable groups have been identified as lone parents, 90% of whom are women, and women single pensioners.

So far, not quite fitting in with my notion of feminism - how about yours?

Let's look at Featherstone's latest work as Equalities Minister. Surely she's got to be earning some feministing points there? Last week she repealed Labour's plan to tackle the gender pay gap. The Equality Act required businesses with more than 250 employees to publish data on how much they pay women and men. Last week Featherstone announced that the system would be voluntary. Yet in 2008, Featherstone said "a voluntary audit system for private industry is hardly worth the paper it's written on." Quite!

I think, Ms. Featherstone, you need to do a little feminist bedtime reading. I live just down the road - I'll bring some books round. Just say the (f) word.

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