Jo Swinson has made a big deal of the fact that she’s the only woman leading one of the three main parties this election. So is she offering policies to tackle gender inequality across the country? Here are the main promises the Lib Dems are making to women.
Did you know that women pay more than men for razors, perfumes, deodorants and loads of other toiletries? This is the ‘pink tax’ and the Lib Dems want to get rid of it. They haven’t said how they’ll do it, but it could save you a lot of money every year if they’re successful.
Abortion is now legal across the UK, after it was finally decriminalised in Northern Ireland last month. The Lib Dems say they’ll legislate for access to abortion clinics in Northern Ireland, and provide funding so that services are always free everywhere in the UK. They also want to see 'safe zones' around clinics to end intimidation of women looking to access an abortion.
Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) have been campaigning for compensation for women born in the 1950s, who lost out when the state pension age was changed sooner than expected. The Lib Dem manifesto promises that these women will be compensated by the government, to make up for the fact that they weren’t properly notified of changes to the state pension age. This will all be 'in line with the recommendations of the parliamentary ombudsman'.
Marriage and divorce
Not married and don’t fancy it? It’s a bit of a vague promise, but the Lib Dems want to increase your legal rights, giving you 'greater protection in the event of separation of a partner’s death'.
Married and don’t fancy it? Current divorce laws force you to find faults with your partner that caused the marriage break-down – pretty unpleasant, especially if you have children together. A ‘no-fault divorce’ is technically possible, but can take years. After a no-fault divorce bill was dropped when Parliament was prorogued in September, the Lib Dems say they’ll bring it back.
This could be good news for trans women – the manifesto promises long-awaited reform of the Gender Recognition Act. The party will get rid of the need for medical reports when changing your legally recognised gender and scrap any fees.
Earlier this year, the government introduced funding for free sanitary products in English secondary schools and colleges, but the Lib Dems want to go further. They want to make sanitary products cheaper by removing VAT and make them free in hospitals, hostels, shelters, libraries, leisure centres, stadiums, GP surgeries, food banks, colleges and universities.
The Lib Dems plan to catch gender stereotypes early on, making some changes in schools. They want every school to introduce gender-neutral uniform policies and 'break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of certain subjects' – although they don’t say how they’ll achieve the second part.
Violence against women
The party is promising to tackle violence and make people feel safer, with knife crime top of the list. But they’ve also set out ways they’d help female victims of violence.
The Istanbul Convention is a cross-European project to tackle violence against women and girls. Currently, the UK is one of the last remaining European countries to commit to it. Jo Swinson’s Lib Dems promise that they’ll ratify it and make it law. This would recognise that violent crimes including sexual violence, domestic abuse, forced marriage and FGM, are caused by gender inequality. The government would have to support and protect victims, prosecute culprits, and educate the public about harmful gender stereotypes.
Linked to this, the manifesto promises to address the fact that women’s refuges have been shutting down across the UK under austerity. The Lib Dems say they’ll fund local authorities to provide victims of domestic abuse with accommodation and support. The party also wants to increase the number of rape crisis centres, set up a national rape crisis helpline and set up special measure in court so that sure survivors of domestic abuse are never cross-examined by their abusers.
Women in prison
Last month, the shocking death of a baby made headlines, after its mother was forced to give birth alone in a cell inside the UK’s largest women’s prison. The Lib Dems say they’ll set up a Women’s Justice Board, and create special training for everyone who works with women in the criminal justice system.
Women in the workplace
The proportion of women on the boards of FTSE 350 companies reached 30% last year. Jo Swinson’s party want to see that climb to 40%, but they haven’t set a time limit. They also promise to extend the Equality Act, so more companies will have to record and publish information about their gender employment split and pay gaps.
The Lib Dems also have a couple ideas to tackle gender discrimination in the workplace. They want to extend name-blind recruitment processes in public sector organisations, which could help more women get a foot in the door, and force any workplace that receives public funds to give its staff unconscious bias training.
Statutory paternity leave is still only two weeks – tough for fathers (especially in same-sex couples) and forcing women to take the bulk of the caring duties in opposite-sex couples. The Lib Dems promise to extend paternity leave to six weeks.
If you decide to have a child, finding and paying for care can become a real barrier for your career. If you and your partner work, the Lib Dems are promising 35 hours of free childcare per week, for 48 weeks a year, as soon as your baby turns nine months. If you don’t work, you’ll have to wait until your child turns two. With nursery places scarce in many areas, the party is also promising to increase funding to nurseries, and invest £1bn each year in Children’s Centres that help support families with health and education.
Women in Parliament
Sexual harassment in Parliament, and abuse directed towards female MPs has been in the news recently, with worries that women are put off pursuing a political career. The Lib Dems say they’d have 'a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and bullying in Westminster' and allow constituents to recall any MP who commits sexual harassment.
Outside the UK, the Lib Dems say their foreign policy will have 'gender equality at its heart'. This includes promises to end FGM across the globe, tackle sexual violence in war zones, and help women and girls get education and training.