On International Women’s Day, it is important to reflect how far we have come as a society in terms of gender equality over the past century. But we must also recognise just how far we still have to travel.
There remains so much that needs to be achieved, if we as a society are to have true gender equality. David Cameron has made many promises since becoming Prime Minister about eliminating gender inequality, and now he needs to live up to that rhetoric.
I have written to the Prime Minister setting out the five key areas where his government can and should take urgent action to improve the lives of women living in the UK.
My SNP colleagues and I have been campaigning on these five issues over the past few months, but as we take stock on International Women’s Day, it is very clear that not nearly enough has been done by the UK Government.
From taking steps to close the gender pay gap, to ensuring no woman should have to prove she has been raped to claim tax credits, this checklist should give David Cameron all the motivation he needs to act.
Here’s my checklist to the Prime Minister:
Scrap the Rape Clause
The government’s new proposals, due to commence in 2017, will require a woman who has a third child as the result of rape to justify her position to a government official in order to avoid losing tax credits.
The government has failed to provide any details on how the ‘rape clause’ will be implemented, or how a government official intends to prove a woman has been raped.
As part of a campaign led by SNP MP Alison Thewliss, MPs representing nine different parties in the House of Commons – including the Conservatives – signed a joint letter to the Prime Minister calling upon the government to ‘unequivocally’ scrap the tax credits rape clause.
Ratify the Istanbul Convention
David Cameron has continually failed to commit to ratifying the Istanbul Convention – a European Council convention which legislates for the coordination of policies between government, local authorities and charities working to combat violence against women. This is despite the fact that in 2012 the UK signed up to the Convention and agreed to implement a series of coordinated measures.
Later this month I will be taking the issue to the UN Women’s Convention in New York to build on the calls from my SNP colleague Gavin Newlands MP – supported by several campaign groups – which criticised the UK government for “stalling over women’s rights.”
Abolish the Tampon Tax
The SNP has consistently opposed the VAT charge on sanitary products and was the only major party at the 2015 General Election to include a pledge to abolish the tax in its manifesto.
In Westminster we’ve called on David Cameron to negotiate with the European Union to abolish the VAT charge on sanitary products. George Osborne announced that instead of forcing the European Commission’s hand to lift the unfair VAT, women will continue to pay the rate, with the UK government instead diverting the funds to women’s charities.
The announcement was widely condemned – with women still having to pay this unfair tax. The SNP argued that women alone should not have to financially support charitable causes – they should be adequately supported by the government.
Tackle the gender pay gap
The Prime Minister has pledged to end the gender pay gap in a generation, yet in the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, the gender gap in the UK only fell by 0.8 percentage points, to 9.5 percent, compared with Scotland, where the gap dropped 1.8 points to 7.5 percent.
The Scottish Government is legislating to ensure that public organisations with more than 20 employees will have to publish information on the difference in pay between men and women. Right now only public authorities with more than 150 employees are required to publish this information. Proposed UK-wide regulations will only require employers with over 250 employees to publish their data, which is simply inadequate.
The proposal for a UK wide gender-pay audit was in the SNP’s manifesto and would have been proposed for the years 2016/17. Whereas the UK Government have stalled their plans and the legislation is now not due to come into force until 2018. The SNP is calling for the UK Government to introduce the gender-pay audits this year.
End maternity and pregnancy discrimination
Unlawful maternity and pregnancy discrimination is now more common in Britain’s workplaces than ever before, with as many as one in nine pregnant women forced out of their job each year.
In July 2013 the UK Government introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 which are amounting a barrier to women. The SNP have called for the abolition of these tribunal fees to give pregnant women the right to challenge discrimination.
Angela Crawley MP is the SNP spokesperson for Women and Equalities at Westminster