The 2015 UK Election: What about Gender Equality?

By Emma Husband, Staff Writer 

It's just over a week to go until the UK general election and the media is abuzz with anticipation; with no party predicted to fetch a majority, and the overall outcome potentially hinging on just a handful of marginal seats, the makeup of the next government is anyone's guess.

Despite this, there are only two people that could be PM, either David Cameron or Ed Miliband. The uncertainty arises with regards to who they might do deals with to form a government.

Along with the certainty that the next PM will be a man comes a series of uncertainties for women, ranging from representation in parliament to the potential effects of each party's policies on women. 

In the last five years under the coalition government, women have suffered the most from the austerity cuts imposed. In an independent review of the effects of the cuts on women, The Fawcett Society reported the disproportionate burden that austerity has placed on women in the UK. This is helpfully outlined by the concept of 'triple jeopardy': 

  •  women are more likely to work in the areas of the public sector which have   experienced the most significant job losses;
  • women are more likely to use the services and benefits which have been cut; 
  • women are left picking up the pieces left from the cuts to these services e.g. being made to take up unpaid care work.

It's no wonder that women are feeling less optimistic about the economic recovery than men. 

While no party would admit to making policies that discriminate on account of gender, it is clear that in reality, when the gendered significance of policies are not taken into account, this gives the same outcome as conscious discrimination taking place.

So why has gender equality not been a hot topic this campaign season? In wider society, awareness of prevailing gender inequality is permeating through, with high profile campaigns helping to raise the profile of the many different areas of inequality that women face, and the different ways that they face them. Odd then that parties potentially forming the future government have not made more of these issues. 

While all parties have put forwards some form of 'Women's Pledge', this is seen as a separate, mutually exclusive issue to the rest of the campaign. There is little or no understanding that women's issues are society's issues, not an afterthought to an otherwise gender-ignorant campaign.

And yet you'd be hard-pressed, at least from the three major parties, to get recognition of this. With Labour drilling the message home that they stand for 'working families', those who do unpaid work, through desire or necessity, are wondering who stands for them, despite their axiomatic contribution to society. On the other side of this, the Tories and Lib Dems have failed to recognise in any way the financial significance for women of their policies of the last 5 years. 

But, we might say, it's not all bad. During the televised leaders' debate and challengers' debate, it was widely thought that the women, Natalie Bennett of the Green Party, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, held their own, offered an alternative vision to the prevailing 'boys' club' political landscape, and even provided the moral compass for the evening. 

But still, no mention of gender equality. No pledges, on the evenings of the deabates at least, to make sure policies go towards achieving economic and social equality between genders, rather than worsening them.

So far, then, the election campaign has proved to be a mixed bag for women. There's been a controversial pink bus, but not a whole lot else. While the media outlets wait with baited breath to see the outcome of this election, many women are still bearing the brunt of the last one. 

Let's do what we can to make the next government take more notice, whoever they may be.