by Emily Jones, women’s delegate and women’s officer for Manchester Gorton CLP
Entering a packed Hall at Labour Women’s Conference 2018 I wasn’t sure what to expect from the day’s events. The focus was on debating motions that had been prioritised by CLPS and Unions. What was striking was hearing so many women standing up to speak about their own experiences, some of them extremely candid. Topics for discussion were abortion rights, childcare, domestic violence, menopausal rights, and women and the economy. Women from all walks of life with different experiences from diverse backgrounds were given the opportunity to speak on these topics.
Many were speaking openly, for the first time, about what they had experienced including those who spoke on abortion rights. One very moving speaker talked about how she understood the need for unrestricted access to healthcare for women as she was unable to discuss her own choices with people from her own community for fear of being shunned. Another talked about the situation in Northern Ireland of young women having to access these services in Britain, on their own, sometimes without any support from their families.
On the issue of child care and how cuts to early years services disproportionately hit women many stood up to talk passionately about the benefits of Labour’s Sure Start policy and how the demise of Sure Start under the Tories has been devastating for families across the UK.
Domestic violence is a widespread issue that needs parity in relation to supporting women as with any area of health care. Allowing women 10 days of leave from their workplace in order to organise support and access to services for their own safety was called for, along with the desperate need for women’s refuges to be properly funded and cuts to be reversed.
Currently the menopause is not commonly recognised as a Healthcare issue in the workplace and many women have felt sidelined when it comes to understanding how the menopause detrimentally affects day to day work. Pregnant women rightly have protection in work and Conference agreed that so should menopausal women.
The most wide-ranging motion discussed was women and the economy. Women understand with economic equality comes social equality. Women being able to access the services they need and having the independence to do so comes through having enough money to be able to make those choices, and in the end Women’s Conference, including myself, voted for this motion to go forward to Labour Conference. So long was the queue to vote for the priority motion that the workshop discussions had to be sidelined by many delegates- a sign of the success of Women’s Conference of bringing women together rather than a criticism.
We also had some excellent speeches from Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities minister and of course Jeremy Corbyn (to the now standard refrain of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn across the hall!). But for me, the strongest impact from Women’s Conference was from listening to those women standing up and talking from the heart about the real life consequences of good and bad policies. That’s how we make policies that make a difference to the many.