The East Yorkshire Labour Party column with Catherine Minnis: Women must choose to challenge!

The current coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated gender inequality.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 10:35 am
Women have suffered the worst economic consequences during lockdown.
Women have suffered the worst economic consequences during lockdown.

The current coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated gender inequality.

It feels at present that all the work done to further women’s causes in recent decades has been undone, as recent reports (Office for National Statistics; London School of Economics; Institute of Fiscal Studies amongst others) show that women have borne the brunt of the extra household work and suffered the worst economic consequences and stresses resulting from the lockdowns.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Choose to Challenge, but how many women throughout the country feel they have the energy to challenge?

Women have had to juggle three jobs during the pandemic: their paid work, their usual housework and childcare and the extra responsibility of home-schooling.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, countless households have reverted to those old-fashioned gender-oriented divisions of roles.

Most commonly, the fact that the man has the higher paid job, has meant his work has taken priority.

More women have been furloughed and with 58% of local authorities warning of nursery closures, childcare is not going to be available for those returning to work.

No wonder that women reported significantly higher anxiety than men at almost every point since the start of the pandemic, in a period of the highest levels of anxiety ever recorded.

There has been much talk about the pandemic as a pivotal moment in our history; that there is no going back; that there is an opportunity for us to rethink many aspects of the ways we live and work.

So let that be true of our approach to women’s rights and to gender equality and let women be part of the debate and policy decisions.

We know, for example, that around 77% of the NHS workforce are women and yet they are being offered an insulting 1% pay rise after a year of being hailed as heroines and national treasures, whilst Boris Johnson had no trouble fixing a 40% rise for his former adviser.

The pay rise is effectively a pay cut: nurses are on average £800 worse off now than in 2010; this is why Keir Starmer launched Labour’s local election campaign with a call for a pay settlement that recognises what they have done.

Rishi Sunak’s budget has allowed for £19m to tackle domestic abuse, which has increased dramatically in the last year, but Women’s Aid estimates that the amount is only 5% of the figure that’s needed to keep women safe.

There needs to be a drastic change of approach, with specific policies to redress the inequality that’s been heightened and worsened by the pandemic.

It should begin with a proper gender analysis of the economy and the impact of the virus.

Women, who understand community and family issues, must be included in policy discussions and decisions.

So I choose to challenge: if the Government is really going to build back better, they must reassure women that there is an absolute and unequivocal commitment to gender equality.

Because this year has shown that they simply can’t continue to design polices that don’t take into account the needs of half the population.