By June Eric Udorie
This week, the Labour Party graced us with their newest campaign to attract female voters – a hot pink minibus with the words “Woman to Woman” written across it. Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour Party who is fronting the campaign said, “We don’t want women to give up on politics. If you look at the figures, the disaffection that there is with politics is even more pronounced among women”.
I’m all for women to vote. In the last general election, 9.1 million women did not vote (perhaps they were too busy doing the childcare and then the housework so going out to vote was too much). Jokes aside, as a young woman, I really do feel that I’m not heard or represented in the current political environment. Out of the 650 MPs in the House of Commons, only 148 of them are women. There are even fewer women of colour that are MPs. So yes, we do have a problem with engaging women in politics. However, is a hot pink minibus visiting 70 constituencies really the answer?
I find it interesting that the bus is pink, coming from a party that has had several members vocal about the problem with the gender stereotyping of colours. Labour MP, Stella Creasey has been very successful with her campaign against gendered toys and last year the shadow frontbencher Chi Onwurah said, “Why should young girls be brought up in an all pink environment?” It does seem a bit odd, doesn’t it?
For one second, let’s ignore the colour of the minibus. Harriet Harman is right – there needs to be a much bigger focus on women and we do need to listen and include their voices in political debate. We might forget, but women make up 51 per cent of the electorate and they cannot be ignored. The colour of the minibus distracts us form the important thing – which is that the Labour party is making a substantial effort to engage with women and find out what they want. Labour will use this campaign to help better its policies on care for the elderly, childcare, domestic violence, equal pay, the NHS and representation in the workplace. The Labour Party has introduced measures to try and improve the political environment for women, being the only party to use all-women shortlists, and according to The Telegraph, if Labour were to win a majority, 43 per cent of its MPs would be women.
However, I am not entirely convinced by this campaign. Yes, childcare is predominantly a mother’s issue (not a women’s issue as suggested by the party because of course, not all women are mothers). 75 per cent of people claiming a carer’s allowance are women. The truth is, women are the worst hit by cuts and benefits changes. And the services that support women, like refuges are constantly being shut due to the lack of funding. Just yesterday, a petition was launched to ask that the funding for the Latin American Women’s Aid Refuge (LAWA) wasn’t cut by 100 per cent. They run the only refuge in the UK to Latin American and other black and ethnic minority women and children in their native language. Violence against women and girls is rife, with an average of 2 women killed each week by a man.
These are women’s issues, in the sense that these are issues that largely affect women. But they shouldn’t be. By running a campaign like this, it sends out an incredibly strong message that issues like childcare are ‘women’s issues’ and men don’t need to get involved (never mind that we also have fathers who should also play a key role in taking care of their children in heterosexual relationships). It feeds into this dangerous stereotype of ‘it is a woman’s problem’ instead of it is everybody’s problem.
This is the biggest problem I have with the campaign. Not the fact that the minibus is pink, but the fact that we need to target women as a homogenous group and identify the issues that they have a problem with. What about the other issues that other women might want to discuss? What about changing the narrative instead of perpetuating the current stereotype?
The intentions behind this campaign are somewhat decent. But, it only proves the extent of problem we have with women’s engagement in politics. Instead of wasting fuel sending a minibus around the country, we need a drastic change in the way we talk about and engage women in politics. We would never have a blue bus visiting 70 constituencies with ‘Man to Man’ slathered across the front, now would we? Exactly. The harsh reality is men are heard and women are not. We are ignored.
I’m 16, and not eligible to vote, but the number of women I’ve spoken to who won’t vote because they don’t see themselves in politics is where the problem lies. I don’t need pink to get me interested in politics. I just want to see the issues I am interested in and affect me being addressed properly – and more women in the House of Commons would be nice too.
Harriet Harman might have used the wrong colour, but at least she is trying. If nobody tries, we are never going to improve the political environment. So we may laugh when we catch a glimpse of the minibus, but as long as women are being listened to and heard, then it can’t be that bad, can it?
Ignore the colour. I’m much happier that someone is trying to talk about the issues that interest and affect me. Until these issues are no longer ‘women’s issues’, which sadly is the reality, then Harriet Harman may be touring the country in a pink minibus, but if that’s what it takes to start that process of change, then I’m supportive of it.