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Labour Party Conference 2014, Manchester

24 Sep

Party conference season is, I always think, a bit like freshers’ week at university. A new term (Parliamentary), lectures (talks in the conference hall), tutorials (fringe events) and a vibrant social life with silly drinking games (of course the latter doesn’t happen at Conference and the hotel bars are a bit more expensive than the Student Union bar). As well as an opportunity to enthuse Party members and introduce new policies, it offers charities and other policy wonks the chance to mix more freely with the political classes.

This year Mothers’ Union is attending all three party conferences, and the Labour Party kicked off the season this year.

In the build up to the next election, Labour introduced a number of new policies. On Sunday, Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, announced Labour plans to revive SureStart, increase free childcare to 25 hours per week for 3 and 4 year olds of working parents, introduce childcare support at schools from 8am to 6pm, and require all teachers to be qualified. In her speech on equalities, Gloria De Piero, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, announced that the Labour Party would ensure the public sector monitored the race, gender, disability and socio-economic status of their staff in an effort to tackle discrimination and disadvantage.

On Monday, Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary for International Development, announced that Labour would put human rights at the heart of international development, provide funding for the International Labour Organisation, help prevent migrant workers from being exploited in Qatar in the build up to the World Cup 2022 and put universal health coverage at the heart of the world’s development ambitions.

And today, Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, announced that a Labour Government would bring in a new law on violence against women and girls, which would provide new powers to tackle female genital mutilation, tackle economic and labour exploitation across the world, introduce compulsory sex and relationship education into schools, and bring in new laws and a commissioner on domestic and sexual abuse, and fund a national network of refuges.

I had a couple of useful meetings during the week. I met with Sharon Hodgson MP to talk about our upcoming participation in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender violence and our concerns about the need for greater prevention work; the difficult funding and commissioning environment facing services that support victims and survivors of gender-based violence; and the need for resourcing perpetrator programmes. I also met with Jack Palmer from the Church of England and Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to discuss the policy priorities of Mothers’ Union, and the Church.

Fringe events proved stimulating and thought provoking. LabourList hosted ‘Dads’ Army’, along with the Royal College of Midwives, Barnardo’s and Working With Men, where the panel spoke about the importance of treating dads as dads in their own right, not just partners of a mother after having given birth; the impact of fatherlessness on children’s lives; and the importance of giving fathers decent paternity leave and pay. Women’s Aid hosted a fantastic event on ‘Can survivors of domestic violence count on Labour?’ We heard from a survivor about her experience; from Polly Neate of Women’s Aid about the challenges the women’s sector is facing in terms of funding cuts and the need for coercive control to be better understood and criminalised; and from Vera Baird QC, who is drafting th Bill for the Labour Party on violence against women and girls.

In all, this year’s Labour Party Conference has been far more instructive than those following their defeat in the 2010 General Election. The moto throughout the conference was “When we win the General Election in 2015…” and this is perhaps is what has given impetus for some more clearly articulated policies.

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Side negotiations outside the conference room

21 Mar

Side negotiations outside the conference room

Friday 21st March: The Waiting Game

21 Mar

At this point in negotiations in 2013, we had just been let into the conference hall to hear governments finalise the agreed conclusions. This year, however, I am sitting on the floor in the lounge area, wondering what the outcome will be. The most contentious issues, including sexual and reproductive rights, the family (on which I shall write about in more detail later) and national sovereignty have been left to the end and now negotiators are under pressure to reach compromise agreements. Maybe by the time I’ve finished writing this there will be some news…

Earlier on today I attended the final Eucharist with my fellow Anglicans. Alice Medcof, a Mothers’ Union member from Canada presided, and Imaculee Nyiransengimana, our Community Development Coordinator from Rwanda gave the sermon…

Our UK negotiator has just informed us that unfortunately things are not progressing well. After side negotiations within country blocs, certain groups are putting forward language that would weaken the agreements. The CSW Chair also popped out and he stopped to chat to us, explaining how long winded some of interventions were, but also how important it was to stop and consider issues of discrimination, no matter how small a minority of people it affected.

It’s just a matter of waiting now.

Thursday 20th March 2014: *Newsflash*

20 Mar

The agreed conclusions have been going rather slowly, despite the facilitator’s efforts to keep the pace up and be nearly done by lunchtime today. Yesterday evening we met with our negotiator from the Government Equalities Office and he did not have much of an update, other than everyone wants their two cents’ worth of input; and that posturing and attempted compromise continues.

This evening I have just received the latest version and a few more paragraphs have been agreed completely, with a few more nearly agreed. Of the ones nearly agreed, a few bits of our wording relating to women’s inheritance rights and equal access to justice have remained in. One paragraph that has been agreed addresses internet safety, although we can’t claim credit for that one!

I suspect the session will continue well into the night with interns being sent off to buy pizza and strongly caffeinated fizzy drinks. I, meanwhile, have enjoyed a session with the Anglican delegation (including our lovely Mothers’ Union members), reflecting on the past two weeks, and am now scoffing cough sweets to battle the dry tickle in my throat.

More to follow; until then, happy first day of spring to you all.

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Maria Miller and Sir Mark Lyall Grant welcoming NGOs to CSW

20 Mar

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Wednesday 12th March: Keep on agitating!

20 Mar

On Wednesday I attended a meet and greet with Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Quite a novelty meeting a woman bishop! With great warmth and welcome, she encouraged us to keep agitating to seek change in the world. During the same session, Mugisa Isingoma talked about her role as Mothers’ Union President for Congo and the need for her and other leaders to be role models to women. She also talked about her work with United Women for Peace and Social Inclusion, which supports women to become self-sufficient, particularly those who have survived rape and domestic violence. She highlighted how the women she works with do not want to keep telling their story but rather look to the future to see what they can achieve.

Afterwards, I attended an event on engaging faith communities to address sexual and gender-based violence, held by Episcopal Relief and Development and chaired by Terrie Robinson, Women’s Desk Officer with the Anglican Communion. She highlighted how people often look to the church for support and encouragement, yet how the church has often remained silent on the issue of domestic and gender-based violence. Rev Ann Marie Hunter of Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership spoke about how faith can be used as a weapon of abuse, as well as being a source of support and healing; and how faith communities need to repent and speak out against violence, as well as offering support to survivors. Other panelists spoke about the importance of faith leaders being educated about gender-based violence and becoming advocates for transformation.

At the end of the day I attended a reception hosted by Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative, UK Mission to the UN New York. I was introduced to Maria Miller, Minister for Women and Equalities, and spoke to her about Mothers’ Union’s perspective on this year’s CSW, including the discussions Rhoda and I had had about girls missing school each month. I also chatted to Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Women and Equalities Minster, who told me her concerns about the sexualisation of young girls and boys, including their use of internet pornography and self-generated content such as sexting. She was aware of our Bye Buy Childhood campaign and the Bailey Review, having met with her shortly before coming out to CSW.

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UK Government presentation at UNCSW

14 Mar

UK Government presentation ot UNCSW

Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, presents the UK Government’s statement