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To meaningfully recover from COVID-19 the government needs to recognise women’s reality

3 min read

As the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) celebrates its sixth birthday this month, WE are working to create a political and economic renaissance for women.

This is more important than ever, after a year that has pushed millions of women to breaking point. COVID-19 is a gendered crisis and the government’s response to the pandemic has failed women.

I see it every day in the work of the Party. It’s no exaggeration to say that the past year has been our busiest and most intense. Exacerbating and underpinning the social and economic impacts of the pandemic is an older virus - a horribly familiar one: inequality. Inequality is the space between the world we currently live in and the world we want to live in. Our calling is to close that gap.

Three staggering problems have stood out to me this year: the abandonment of mothers and working parents; how little this government values our health, social care, and childcare sectors; and how seriously they have failed women experiencing domestic abuse and violence.

It seems almost unbelievable that in the most recent lockdown, the government ordered schools to shut without also making shared furlough a legal right for parents. Furlough requests are still at an employer’s discretion. I have heard from legions of parents - especially mothers - who have had their requests denied and jobs threatened when they’ve requested furlough for childcare reasons.

Boris Johnson and his cabinet routinely undervalue the contribution care makes to our society. Women do the overwhelming majority of both paid and unpaid care. Wherever there are gaps in formal social care (and there are many) women are forced to take on more, impacting their income, employment, and health. I’m gravely concerned about what will happen in the aftermath of the pandemic, when the care sector will inevitably face further cuts.

This mess has been a decade in the making, with barely any investment in our health and care infrastructure. To recover from this pandemic, we need leadership that not only values and respects caregiving but also treats it as a political and economic priority.

The government’s belated response to the ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic abuse was to provide emergency funding, but this was a drop in the ocean compared to what services and survivors actually need. WE have been calling for more; a holistic approach that tackles the root causes of domestic abuse as well as sustainable, statutory funding for the services, including specialist services, that do this life-saving work.

And it’s not just the government that could do more. With the support of the women’s sector, I recently called for Sadiq Khan to defy the government by making London a Sanctuary City for migrant women fleeing abuse. As things stand, the government’s hostile environment policies make it almost impossible for migrant women and their children to access much-needed support to escape violence and rebuild their lives. The London Mayor has the power to override these discriminatory policies and declare London a safe haven for migrant women fleeing violence - but does he have the will?

As the first person of colour to lead a political party in the UK, it can sometimes feel daunting to demand more for women in the context of a political system that is hostile to our very existence. But I am surrounded by a diverse group of brilliant women (and a few men) who are as ready and as determined to push for radical change as I am.

WE campaign to win, but we also campaign to hold other political parties to higher standards - as we will be doing in the forthcoming May elections.

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