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In this guest post, Melanie Newman considers the Liberal Democrats’ ‘Real Women’ manifesto

The Liberal Democrats have produced a 42-point manifesto for women, which includes proposals on airbrushing in advertising, domestic violence, and 12 months’ parental leave for mothers and fathers.

It’s a shame that the presentation of the ‘Real Women’ manifesto is so patronising. There’s the headline for a start – imagine the scorn it would attract if it were titled ‘Real Men’. What’s with the Ribena colours and the women’s magazine sub-headers? (Want some “real confidence”, anyone?)

Behind the self-conscious girliness there are some good points (see below), including proposals to make equal pay claims easier to bring and to win, efforts to make late-night travel on public transport safer and more money for rape crisis centres. Other proposals include 20 hours’ free childcare per week for all children regardless of age or parental income, plans for thousands of extra midwives and health visitors and the right to request flexible working to be extended to all carers.

The paper, which is not yet policy and is to be debated at the Lib Dems’ annual conference in the autumn, doesn’t seem to have been discussed much in the national papers, though there is a Comment is Free post by the author, Jo Swinton MP. Jo comments on the manifesto’s pledge to make advertisers state when an image has been airbrushed.

The paper’s only policy on ‘sex encounter establishments’ (lap-dancing clubs) is a free-phone trafficking hotline, with advertising of the hotline to be a requirement for all those holding a lap-dancing licence.

The manifesto also wants an end to “the increasing criminalisation of non-coercive prostitution”, as well as increased efforts to help those wishing to leave the sex industry. Earlier this year, the party opposed the Government’s Policing and Crime Bill, which creates an offence of paying for a prostitute who is “controlled for gain with force, deception or threats”.

The Lib Dems’ Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne, said the law would drive prostitution underground and that the “right way to protect vulnerable sex workers would be to regulate the sex industry so that brothels are places of safety”.

What would a feminist manifesto look like?

As a reference I’m including here the list of seven demands agreed on at the 1978 National Women’s Liberation Conference:

  1. Equal pay for equal work.
  2. Equal education and job opportunities.
  3. Free contraception and abortion on demand.
  4. Free 24-hour community-controlled childcare.
  5. Legal and financial independence for women.
  6. An end to discrimination against lesbians.
  7. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of male violence. An end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and men’s aggression towards women.

Key points from the Liberal Democrat ‘Real Women’ paper:

Families

  • 12 months’ parental leave for mothers and fathers
  • Thousands more health visitors and midwives
  • Up to 20 hours’ free quality childcare for all children
  • Encouraged mediation session for divorcing couples

Representation of women

  • Ban use of altered or enhanced images aimed at under 16s
  • Advertising using enhanced images to clearly state where digital retouching has been used
  • Cosmetic surgery advertising to carry information on “success rates”.

Equal pay

  • Allow “class actions” in equal pay. One woman could make a legal claim on behalf of a group rather than each woman having to make a claim individually.
  • Allow the use of “hypothetical comparators” in equal pay claims. When someone puts in a claim for equal pay, they need to compare their pay with that of someone else – the comparator. In sex discrimination claims, the claimant doesn’t have to produce a male employee who is in exactly the same position. So if she is an assistant manager she doesn’t have to find a male assistant manager who has been treated differently; she can point to evidence that a “hypothetical” male assistant manager would have been treated differently. In equal pay claims the claimant would currently have to find a male assistant manager who is receiving more pay. If there is no male assistant manager the claim fails.

Safety

  • Late night trains would have a “secure carriage” where a guard would sit.
  • Stopping on request between stops on late night buses to minimise the distances women have to walk

Violence against women

  • More rape crisis centres and sexual assault referral centres
  • Classes on rights and fair treatment in relationships in schools
  • Women in refuges to be allowed to continue to work
  • Improving systems to report abuse
  • Retaining services targeted at ethnic minority women
  • All women to have access to violence against women services
  • A free-phone trafficking “hotline”, with compulsory advertising of the hotline in sex trafficking clubs [ed: I think this was a typo, and meant lap-dancing clubs, as above]
  • Ending criminalisation of “non-coercive prostitution” and helping those who want to exit the sex industry