UKIP uses women’s rights as a trojan horse to attack minorities

Rainbow Murray, Queen Mary University of London

UKIP has published a series of measures that it claims will help women, entitled Believing in Britain, Believing in Britain’s Women. On the face of it, the document is a pleasant surprise, given UKIP’s poor reputation when it comes to women’s rights. Its proposals look promising, such as a repeal of the tax on tampons, better and more affordable childcare provision and more support in general for women’s rights. Hurrah! What’s not to like? Has UKIP finally received the message that it needs to work harder to win the women’s vote? Well, maybe. But women, beware. A closer look at each policy reveals that all is not quite as it might seem.

Health

Some of the policies here seem sound, such as increasing the provision of midwives and support for mothers struggling with postnatal depression. Hard to argue with that. But beware the promise to abolish the “tampon tax”, which UKIP claims is contingent on exit from the EU due to European rules on scrapping VAT.

Childcare

Reducing the cost of childcare, widening the choice of providers and providing wrap-around childcare for school-age children are all positive measures. It is also encouraging that this section discusses “parents” rather than “mothers”. There is no mention of how this will be paid for though.

Workplace

The claim of “full support for current maternity and paternity rights” is an important u-turn for UKIP and a big step in the right direction. Perhaps it has finally got the message on this one. But it is hard to take such a claim seriously given party leader Nigel Farage’s track record on the matter.

He has claimed that maternity laws place too much burden on small businesses and that women working in the financial sector who have children are “worth far less” to their employers. The sudden support for maternity and paternity rights therefore rings rather hollow.

The proposal to take the lowest paid out of taxation is welcome, although the reference to “women choosing to work part-time” (my emphasis) ignores the fact that this “choice” is often socially constructed. Addressing wage inequality and placing greater emphasis on the role of fathers would be more effective measures of addressing women’s low incomes.

This section also introduces a swipe at immigration, claiming that introducing a points-based immigration system will reduce excessive competition for minimum-wage jobs, most of which are held by women.

Family

Here, the emphasis is on bigger tax breaks for married couples – a conservative policy that increases financial benefits for nuclear families at the expense of single parents (most of whom are women) and unmarried couples. There are also proposals to increase support for carers, although this reinforces the emphasis on women in a caring role.

Whose rights?

This is where the proposals really get interesting. Everything in this and the subsequent section on FGM is a not-very-subtle attack on ethnic minority communities. The rights referred to are protection from “cultural practices that are either illegal or which conflict with British values and customs, including forced marriages, female genital mutilation and honour killings”.

In this respect, UKIP is adopting an increasingly common approach by populist anti-immigration parties: it is using the rhetoric of women’s rights to make racism look progressive. The defence of women’s rights is used to denounce immigrant communities.

We’ve seen such practices before in other European countries, such as the Netherlands and France; Liza Mügge and Sara de Jong label this “femonationalism”, while Birte Siim argues that gender equality is “used by both mainstream political organisations and right-wing political forces as a tool of demarcation to construct a borderline between ‘us and them’, the gender-equal majority and oppressed Muslim women”.

While UKIP’s concern with issues such as female genital mutilation is valid, it is striking that the only aspects of women’s rights singled out for attention are those of particular relevance to immigrant communities – thus stigmatising those communities and portraying their women as helpless victims, while ignoring the many other concerns that women face.

Crime

Crime is an area that affects women a lot. From domestic violence to sexual assault, there is a lot that needs to be done to protect women from gendered crimes. Is UKIP on the case? Er, no. It has one policy here: to decriminalise non-payment of TV licences. This matters for women, apparently, because women (presumably due to their greater impoverishment) are more likely to be fined or jailed for non-payment.

Watch out Nigel, you’re not on solid ground.
Anna Gowthorpe/PA

So there we have it. Has UKIP taken a feminist turn? Not really. Its policies on women’s rights are an attack on immigrants, and the policy on tampon tax is an attack on the EU. Its support for maternity rights is unconvincing, and its main policy for improving women’s economic situation is, well, another attack on immigrants.

More money to research into dementia and more investment in childcare would surely be welcome. But, for the most part, UKIP has eschewed the burning issues affecting women (poverty, violence, pensions, pay gaps, glass ceilings, benefit cuts …). Instead, it has tried to emphasise the impact on women of policies that did not initially have gender in mind.

Still, at least they tried. That has to be worth something. But they’ll have to try harder than this if they want to fix UKIP’s women problem or undo its voting gender gap.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Hard choices: why we should avoid overestimating Hillary Clinton’s candidacy

By Elizabeth Evans (University of Bristol)

hillaryHillary Clinton has finally launched her much anticipated bid for the Democratic nomination; a move never really in doubt. Like most people who care about women’s political representation, I am pleased that she is running for the world’s most visible role in politics, although arguably no longer the most powerful role. For feminists in particular, her decision to run is also something to be celebrated; given her association with women’s rights in the US and around the world. The symbolism of having a woman in the White House (and not just as First Lady) is not to be underestimated given that it potentially has the power to inspire other women to seek elected office. Likewise, we should guard against overestimating the impact of Clinton’s bid for the Presidency.

The highly gendered critiques of Clinton’s 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination were blindingly obvious and we should be alert to any sexist coverage of her current campaign. However, it doesn’t help those seeking to champion her cause (or perhaps more accurately the cause of having a woman in the White House) to write off all criticisms of Clinton as sexist. It is, for instance, hard to ignore the dynastic dimension at work in this race. Of course the fact that she is Bill Clinton’s wife should not preclude her from running for the Presidency, although it is hard not to view it as a sign of the elitist nature of US politics. Likewise, arguments that Clinton deserves the nomination because it’s her turn are hardly compelling, even whilst she may be the most qualified candidate for the job it still smacks of entitlement. There is also her record in office to defend, a record which some view as being more about championing corporate interests than women’s rights, particularly those women from the poorest economic backgrounds.

We know from our own experience in Britain that having a woman Prime Minister does not necessarily result in the advancement of women’s rights. And whilst Clinton identifies as a feminist, which might make her more likely to pursue a policy agenda that will benefit women, this does not mean that her politics speaks to all women or all feminists. The pluralism of feminist interests is just one reason why many on the left, especially those who want a woman President, want Elizabeth Warren, a Senator from Massachusetts, to run; not least because she is an outspoken critic of Wall Street.

Clinton’s gender is a central part of her campaign: and it is something she frequently refers to. Reflecting on her failed bid in 2008, Clinton wrote in her memoir that she felt she had let down the ‘women and girls who had invested their dreams in me’ (p.6); explicitly claiming the symbolic role of women’s rights champion. Clinton has also sought to highlight her gender by emphasising her role as a mother and grandmother, a move designed, one can’t help but suspect, to appeal to ‘normal’ voters. For some, this emphasis on identity politics is part of a de-politicisation of the left in the US and is symptomatic of a lack of substance. In short, identity politics that permeate electoral politics do not always advance group interests at the policy level.

Anyone who keeps even a cursory eye on US politics will know that despite the presence of a black President in the White House, race and racism continue to play an ugly and violent role in American society. There have been a slew of recent shootings of African American men. Wealth inequality continues along racial and ethnic lines. There is a disproportionate number of black men in prison. And recent voting reform procedures only exacerbate the difficulty with which ethnic minorities cast their vote. Such is the ongoing pervasiveness of racism in the USA, that many question what Obama has achieved for black Americans. Whilst Obama has been reluctant to deal with the ‘race issue’ for fear of alienating white voters, Clinton seeks to emphasise her gender. This difference between the two in terms of approaches to identity politics is important not least when we consider her potential willingness to advance a women’s rights agenda. Indeed, many will be keen to hear exactly how Clinton plans to address gender inequality in the US.

Despite the legitimate criticisms surrounding a second Clinton bid for the White House, it is hard not to be excited at the prospect of a Madam President. And yet the title she gave her memoir, Hard Choices, seems apt when we consider the uncritical support that a Clinton bid elicits from those keen to see a woman in the White House. Yes she’s a woman and a feminist to boot but she also carries with her political baggage that reinforce the sense of elitism in US politics and a policy background that has not always served some of the poorest women in society. The value in her bid for office surely lies in its potential to encourage and inspire other women to run for election; an outcome in and of itself which is not insignificant when we consider women’s under-representation in US politics. Whilst there are many who wish to see a woman hold the highest office in US politics, uncritical support for a Clinton bid is problematic; particularly for those who wish to see a more equal and less elitist bias in US politics.

This piece was originally posted on the PSA Blog.

Image: Keith Kissel CC BY

 

 

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PSA Annual Conference – Panels on Women, Gender and Politics

For those attending the PSA Annual Conference in Sheffield this week, there are a number of panels and other sessions on women, gender and politics that you may be interested in attending.

We also hope that you can make it to our Specialist Group Business Meeting at the Conference, which will take place Monday 30 March, 13.00-14.00 in Committee Rm 2 (Town Hall).

List of Panels/Sessions (please get in touch if you would like to add something to this lineup):

See you in Sheffield!

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A political earthquake forecast for Scotland – but will there be a genderquake?

Originally posted on Gender Politics at Edinburgh:

By Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

This blog was originally posted on the Political Studies Association’s Blog for International Women’s Day 2015.

The 2015 General Election has the potential to be one of the most unpredictable electoral contests in British political history, with no party likely to win a majority. Amidst all the post-election scenario discussions, however, lies one certainty – on 7 May the Scottish political landscape will be fundamentally rewritten. The post-referendum political shakeup continues, with recent polling suggesting that the SNP could win 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats, a political earthquake that would mark the final death knell of Labour’s political dominance north of the border (though other estimates, including the PSA’s own, have been more conservative).

The question on everyone’s minds is what happens next – who will hold the balance of power? With the SNP almost certain to be the third largest party…

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Gender & the Research Excellence Framework: An Analysis of the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment (II)

Originally posted on Stephen R. Bates:

by Fran Amery, Stephen Bates & Steve McKay

This is the second of two posts on gender and the Research Excellence Framework (you may also be interested in this post on what titles of outputs submitted to the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment tell us about (sub-)disciplinary trends).

In our first post, we used the REF submissions data in order to offer a new ‘survey’ of political scientists. We looked at the ratio of men to women across different universities, and with different levels of seniority. In this post, we focus more on the outcomes of the REF and, in particular, the association between the outcomes and the proportion of men and women in each submission.

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Gender & the Research Excellence Framework: An Analysis of the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment (I)

Originally posted on Stephen R. Bates:

by Fran Amery, Stephen Bates & Steve McKay

Ever wondered about the gendered dimensions of the REF returns and rankings for the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment? Well wonder no longer.

1320 people were submitted to the Politics & International Studies Unit of Assessment of REF 2014. Of these, 929 were men, 387 were women with 4 not known*. This means that, excluding not knowns, 29.4% of those submitted to the REF were female, a slightly lower percentage than the percentage of UK-based female political scientists in Bates et al.‘s 2011 survey of the profession (see Table 1).

Table 1: Number & percentage of male & female political scientists submitted to REF 2014 & in 2011 Survey

Male Female Overall2

Tables 2 and 3 show breakdowns of these statistics in terms of job title and gender**.

Table 2: Numbers of Male & Female Political Scientists by Job Title and in…

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New Publication: The Women’s Movement and Government

australian women's movementMarian Sawer and Gwendolyn Gray Jamieson (both ANU) have been examining propositions that women’s movement entanglement in the state is responsible for ‘feminist fading’. To read the full article, published in Australian Feminist StudiesCLICK HERE.

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