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Women’s equality at the 2021 elections – what are the manifestos telling us?


Eilidh Dickson: "With 25 parties running in at least one constituency or regional list across the country, plus independent candidates, each party has a different approach to improving women’s lives."

When we look at the scale of the Covid-19 crisis for women – from increased levels of violence to the impossibility of combining paid work and childcare to the economic impact on sectors where women’s employment is highest - it really is no surprise that UN Women estimate the cost of the pandemic for women’s equality around the world to amount to a 25-year rollback.

When Engender published our own Vision for a Feminist Recovery, we wanted to demonstrate to parties ahead of the 2021 elections the need to take ambitious, cross-cutting and comprehensive actions which understand the complexities of all women’s lives and the impacts of inequality and discrimination because of our intersecting and overlapping identities.

Yet with 25 parties running in at least one constituency or regional list across the country, plus independent candidates, each party has a different approach to improving women’s lives. At first glance, it looks as though many have got the message, with many of the manifestos containing a notable volume of commitments explicitly focussed on women and gendered issues.

Certainly, among the five parties campaigning for re-election, the manifestos indicate a lot of consensus about the measures we need action on in the next parliament. For example, each has included commitments to expand the availability of funded childcare beyond the much-delayed rollout of 1140 hours of free childcare. The SNP, Labour and Lib Dems all commit to the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, with the Greens also committing to a new Scottish Human Rights Act.

Elsewhere we see similar consensus on necessary reform to social care, but different ways of achieving this, while each acknowledges the need to improve conditions for the workforce. Similarly, each party has made commitments around criminal justice reform and violence against women – there is consensus on the need for increased funding for violence against women services and most parties commit to a right to anonymity for victims of sexual offences. All five propose new action to tackle misogyny, either through the model of hate crime or supporting the work of the Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice.

In addition to all five parties making commitments relating to care and violence against women, most of the five indicate other areas of focus. The SNP’s manifesto proposes to expand on work being undertaken toward the latter part of the previous session on advancing equality within women’s health through a series of proposals aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment. The Lib Dems focus many of their proposals relating to women on the need to improve perinatal care and women’s mental health.

The Labour manifesto includes numerous commitments intended to realise a more equal economy, including the use of gender budget analysis in the national budget - a proposal shared by the Greens, increasing duties on public sector employers around equal pay and measures to redistribute and revalue care and childcare. The Greens also make broader commitments around the economy, including commitments to tackling the gender pay gap and gendering inclusive growth.

It is perhaps disappointing though that we have few new commitments from any of the five parties specifically designed to lift women out of poverty, with social security commitments largely focussed on delivering or enhancing the Scottish Child Payment or working with Westminster to address the two-child limit and benefit cap which disproportionally affect women, especially single parents. Proposals to increase support through Social Security Scotland for unpaid carers are relatively modest or vague. Similarly, there are few commitments around issues to improve the gender-sensitively of decision-making, although both Labour and the SNP make some commitments to improving mainstreaming.

When compared with manifestos in 2016, across the board there are more commitments clearly aimed at advancing women’s equality and rights. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, there appears to be good reason to hope that parties can work together on the issues we see at least some cross-party consensus on – childcare, criminal justice reform, women’s health and women’s human rights.

However, is it enough to stop women’s position rolling back as a result of the pandemic? While we welcome this greater focus, unless these measures are underpinned by processes which meaningfully consider gender, tackle inequality and eliminate barriers to accessing rights, the benefits will not be shared by all women.

Eilidh Dickson is Engender’s Policy and Parliamentary Manager



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Liz R
about 2 months ago

Helpful analysis. Do they say anything about pensioner poverty, particularly with respect to women?