Everything Prime Minister Boris Johnson Has Said About Women's Rights
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Featured Image Credit: PA
It's official: Britain will head to the polling stations on 12th December after MPs finally agreed on an early election.
The vote, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been trying to secure for weeks, was finally confirmed yesterday (29th October) when Labour conceded to the bill after their concerns over a no-deal Brexit were somewhat reduced following the EU granting an extension to the Brexit deadline of January 31st.
What now ensues is a ruthless six-week election campaign. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party will be launching "the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen," while Boris Johnson will be fighting for a Conservative win which will see his role as PM extended.
While we await the party's election manifestos and prepare for a some Brexit-heavy campaigns, it's important to consider how the outcome will affect women.
Boris, who moved into 10 Downing Street on 13th July, has said little to nothing on women's matters in the 15 weeks he's been PM. Sigh. But that's not to say there isn't plenty on record which speaks to how he feels about women's issues.
As women prepare to exercise their vote (which our foresisters worked so hard to secure, let's not forget) we're taking a look at Boris's point of view on some of the issues that affect us women the most, from the decisions we get to make about our own bodies to how much tax we pay on tampons...
Not only has Boris never engaged publicly in the debate around abortion rights, he has always abstained from Westminster votes on the topic including the introduction of independent abortion counselling, and most recently, the landmark poll which decriminalised abortion in Northern Ireland.
So basically we have no idea what he thinks because he either hasn't bothered to show up to vote or just doesn't want his views on record. Which doesn't bode well for women in a time when elsewhere in the world abortion rights are being dramatically reduced.
One of this year's most significant bills for women's rights was the Voyeurism Bill, which banned upskirting (taking photos up women's skirts or dresses without permission) and made it punishable by up to two years in prison. The issue was first brought to national attention by Gina Martin who had two men take a photo up her skirt at a festival.
The bill was passed after a private member vote in January, but Boris refrained from having a say. It was one of his Tory MPs though, Christopher Chope, who was the only member to object the bill, delaying it's progress.
Women in the Workplace
While rival Jeremy Hunt responded to a detailed letter from the Conservative Women in Parliament Group (CWIPG) last month with plans to close the gender pay gap and increase both paternity leave and financial help for carers, Boris wasn't quite so vocal. He simply stated that: "Where there are barriers - be they pay, discrimination, against women on maternity leave, or the hidden inequalities of the health system - my government will call them out and do something about them." No solid policy commitments then, hey?
On the same topic, Boris famously came under fire back in 2013 when he was quoted as saying women only go to university to find men to marry. When asked about boosting female education in the Muslim world at the launch of the Islamic Economic Forum, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters: "Before coming here, my officials have told me that the latest university intake in Malaysia, a Muslim country, 68 per cent will be women entering our universities." To which Boris interjected: "They've got to find men to marry."
He did later backtrack, saying it was "utterly ludicrous and infuriating" to suggest that he believes women attend university in order to find a husband and was merely pointing out that when a large number of students are female, you intensify "assertive mating" where people choose a partner similar to themselves. But unfortunately the damage was done.
The Gender Pay Gap
A topic that Boris has been famously quiet on, when he did speak out on the gender pay gap during his time as London Mayor back in 2016, it was to blame immigration for its persistence. Responding to a report that almost a quarter of women working in London earn less than the living wage, he said it was down to: "unrestricted access to the market of labourers who are willing to work for very low wages."
Yeah, we're not sure that's it.
Another important female topic that our future Prime Minister is yet to take a firm stance on, Boris was one of 305 MPs who voted against an amendment in 2015 to remove tampon tax levied on female sanitary products. At the time of the motion - which was bought by the Labour party - only three Conservative leaders rebelled against the policy, with government ministers claiming the current rate of tax is the lowest allowed under EU law.
Violence Against Women
It's not all bad news though. As London Major, Boris was widely praised for expanding the provision of rape crisis centres provision and created a specialist unit in the Metropolitan Police to respond to rape and sexual assault. He has also previously stated that one of his priorities is to devise a strategy to eliminate violence against women as well as improve support services for victims of domestic abuse and to improve access to the justice system. He has also set out a bold agenda to combat the evils of FGM and as Foreign Secretary, he took part in campaigns against the horrendous act.
However, at the same time he cut roles and budget from the London Domestic Violence Strategy Team.
Another thing to keep in mind is that his personal life has come under increased scrutiny during the race when police were called to his home following neighbours overhearing an altercation involving him and his partner Carrie Symonds. The police later issued a statement saying "there were no offences or concerns apparent to the officers and there as no cause for police action".
Another area in which Boris gets does OK in is female education - as Foreign Secretary, Boris championed education for girls, committing £212 million in UK aid money to help one million vulnerable girls across the Commonwealth receive 12 years of quality education by 2030. On becoming PM, Boris pledged to build on this record and finish the programmes he began, pushing for greater equality in our society. We haven't seen any movement on this yet, but we guess he has been busy with Brexit.
Remember that time the man who is leading our country compared veiled Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers? In his newspaper column for The Daily Telegraph which he is paid £275k (or an hourly rate of £2,291) according to the parliamentary register of members' interests, no less.
He later defended his column, describing it as a "strong, liberal defence of the right of women to wear the burqa," adding that he had received letters of support from Muslim religious leaders. However Tell Mama - which records hate crimes - reported the rise in reported Islamophobic incidents targeting women wearing Islamic veils were directly linked to his comments.
And it wasn't just women he infuriated, either. At the time of his comment, Conservative peer and former Director of Strategy for 10 Downing Street Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "The rottenness of Boris Johnson goes deeper even than his casual racism and his equally casual courting of fascism. He will advocate literally anything to play to the crowd of the moment. His career is a saga of moral emptiness and lies; pathetic; weak and needy; the opposite of strong." Ouch.
That wasn't the only enemy he made thanks to his comments, either - earlier this year, in response to Boris claiming he was a feminist, Labour MP Jess Phillips was quoted saying: "What the hell has Boris ever done for the rights of women? Boris Johnson has to remember that when we are talking about feminism we are talking about all women, not just the women he chooses."
She added: "Boris Johnson called loads of women where I live 'letterboxes'. It is racist and sexist and he has done absolutely nothing to go and talk to Muslim women about the reasons that they do anything."
Responding to CWIPG's letter to parliament requesting clarity on what would be done on the issue of women's representation among the government, Johnson pledged a 50 per cent aspiration for Conservative candidates, calling for it to be extended across all levels of the party. He didn't go into any detail on how this would be realised, though.
The new PM has a confusing record on LGBT issues, with an early history of casual anti-gay rhetorics in his 1990s newspaper columns where he famously referred to gay people as "tank-topped bum boys." He also hit out at same-sex unions in his 2001 book Friends, Voters, Countrymen, writing: "If gay marriage was OK - and I was uncertain on the issue - then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog."
His legislative record is markedly more liberal, however - Boris rebelled against his own party on several occasions to back LGBT rights measures back in 2001 when he was first elected to parliament, and in 2003 he voted to abolish Section 28 which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools. He also voted to permit civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2004.
Fast forward to 2018 though and Johnson generated criticism from activists when he green-lit a law in the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda that imposed a ban on same-sex marriages.
Now it remains to be seen if Boris will make women's rights part of his upcoming campaign manifesto, but we aren't holding out breaths for any radical change.
Head to gov.uk to register tot vote if you haven't already.