Breaking the bias one bill at a time on International Women’s Day
This International Women’s Day has been a moment of reflection for women across the world. While we make great strides for equality, we are constantly being held back by unconscious biases and by a government that is refusing to act on the biggest issues facing women.
The International Women's Day theme this year, "Break the Bias", makes me prouder than ever to be a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Democrats, a party where nine of our thirteen MPs are women. We have come together to introduce nine bills to fight back against these biases and advance gender equality in the UK and beyond.
Nowhere are these unconscious biases more apparent than in our built environment. My colleague, Christine Jardine’s bill would ensure planning applications take women’s safety into account before they can be approved. In her own words, this bill “can begin to prevent violence against women rather than simply reacting to it”.
My own bill and Daisy Cooper’s push the government to look at the gender biases in the justice system. I have long pressed them on the poor rape conviction rate in this country. With just one per cent of rape cases going to trial, my bill would take action to urgently build trust between police and victims and make sure that the number of victims who drop out of the system falls. Victims need to be able to trust that their case will be taken seriously and that they will be treated with empathy.
Daisy’s bill looks at the other end of the system, where women are being failed without safe accommodation as they leave prison. By ensuring women are safe, we can reduce the number of women in this situation who remain unemployed, reoffend or become homeless.
Another area impacted by the gender biases of our society is healthcare. That’s why three of our bills focus on this, with Munira Wilson and Helen Morgan’s bills focusing on maternity issues.
Munira aims to hold the government accountable on the high rates of miscarriage and stillbirth for black and Asian women, while Helen’s would put a stop to the postcode lottery of maternity services. Pregnant women should be able to access services within 45 minutes of their home - even if they live in a rural area. Sarah Green’s touches on an issue we have heard much about in the Commons - the need for compensation for victims of complications from vaginal mesh.
We have known for a long time that women are impacted financially by gender bias. The pay gap has been discussed for decades, yet in 2022, women still receive a smaller pay packet than men on average. Sarah Olney’s bill pushes for much stronger transparency on the way this pay gap is reported.
Yet, there are other less well-known ways that gender bias can be impactful on women’s finances. Wendy Chamberlain’s bill calls out the government on divorced women being underpaid their pension. The government’s review of underpaid pensions currently excludes divorced women due to the complexity of their cases. These women should be paid the pension they deserve.
Of course, the biases against women don’t just exist in the UK. Layla Moran’s bill aims to find out the exact impact on women and girls of the devastating cuts to international aid. This broken promise has ended the hopes and dreams of the most vulnerable women overseas. Both MPs and the public deserve to know the full effect of this move.
We hope these bills spark action from the government to tackle the wide range of issues still facing women due to gender bias. This International Women’s Day, Liberal Democrat women are making our voices heard - the Government must listen.
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