What will the new mayor do for London's 4 million women?
24 April 2012
Last night (23 April) I attended a pre-election mayoral debate, What About Women? at the British Government @LSE, organised by the Fawcett Society, leading campaigners for equality. Introduced by Director of LSE London Tony Travers and chaired by CEO of Fawcett Society Ceri Goddard, the event featured mayoral candidates Jenny Jones (Green Party), Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrats), Ken Livingston (Labour) and standing in for Boris Johnson, London Assembly member Victoria Borwick (Conservative). The audience was large, opinionated and informed, consisting of women’s organisations (Women’s Budget Group, Women’s Resource Centre, Counting Women In Coalition, to name a few), academics, activists and, of course, voters hungry for answers.
A result of the large number of Fawcett supporters in the room, the question of the day unsurprisingly was how, if elected, candidates would ensure women with children, living in London, have access to large numbers of highly skilled, flexible employment opportunities and convenient, affordable childcare.
Tory candidate and Boris stand-in Victoria Borwick came out swinging, calling City Hall a ‘role model’ for large employers with plans to create another 7,000 part time jobs, on top of the already available flexible and shared-working schemes they offer. Ken then matched this, announcing his team’s intention to pioneer an ‘experiment’ by giving £700,000 worth (a third of Boris’ £10million contingency budget) of grants and loans to those who wish to return to work but cannot afford to due to the cost of childcare in the capital. Not to be outdone, Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick’s response to the question was to highlight the unfairness of offering maternity and paternity leave, when really we should be leaving new parents to determine between themselves who should be looking after baby.
Another stand-out election battleground was the subject of the underrepresentation of women on boards. Jenny Jones of the Green Party received rapturous applause following her call for 50% equal representation on GLA controlled boards, including Transport for London and the London Skills and Employment Board. The sentiment was echoed by the remaining candidates. Where the panel was split however was on the role of quotas, adequately reflecting the general uneasiness visible in the business sector.
But it was a question from the Women’s Budget Group regarding the gender auditing of policies which exposed the truth at the heart of the What About Women? mayoral debate. And that is that policies cannot, and will not, represent the lives, interests and concerns of women if there aren’t the women in City Hall and other positions of power and influence to help shape them. Without understanding the seriousness of this representational deficit, any mayor risks misinterpreting, or worse still, ignoring the needs of over half the population of London.
The female vote is vital to the equality of all policies affecting Londoners – not just those involving childcare, tax credits and pay. I just hope someone passes the message onto Boris…