Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Campaign group says parties 'ignoring women voters'

Harriet Harman, Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson at a meeting with female executives
The equalities minister and business secretary joined Gordon Brown

Politicians are treating women as an "afterthought" and failing to explain how policies would impact differently on them, the Fawcett Society says.

The society, which campaigns for equality between women and men, also said a poll of 580 women suggested that 49% felt their views were ignored.

The society accused parties of trying to rely on "a charm offensive without substance" to woo women voters.

Their What About Women? campaign launch came on International Women's Day.

'An afterthought'

A coalition of 40 equality groups are asking the parties a series of questions during the campaign to focus on what policies would "mean for women's everyday lives and women's equality".

The questions include: How will the policies you propose on tax and benefits impact on women's incomes? How will you ensure that women are paid the same as men for work of equal value? How will you improve the availability, quality and pay of part-time work? What will you do to end violence against women?

Female business leaders, including West Ham FC vice-chairman Karren Brady, at a Downing Street meeting
West Ham FC's Karren Brady (centre) was among those at the meeting

Fawcett said its poll of 1,005 voters - including 580 women - suggested that 55% of women and 46% of men would be more likely to vote for a party with a clear strategy to improve equality.

But chief executive Ceri Goddard said politicians of all parties were treating women as "an afterthought".

"Cuts to public services will be particularly hard on women unless handled appropriately. Over 65% of of public sector employees are women and they are heavier users of frontline services."

She continued: "If they are going to talk about options such as greater family responsibility for caring then let's be explicit - that would mean more work for women who make up 89% of carers."

Fawcett says it will publish the parties' answers to its questions later this month, ahead of the election which is expected to be held on 6 May.

'Woeful record'

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown met leading female executives, including vice-chairman of West Ham Football Club Karren Brady, in a breakfast meeting on Monday.

In a message on the Number 10 website he said he was making a commitment that all state-owned companies would be required to increase the number of women on their boards over the next two years.

"Not through rigid quotas but by reaching out to successful women in all walks of life who have got a big contribution to make," he said.

The Government Equalities Office claimed that at the current rate of progress it would take 60 years for women to gain equal representation on the boards of the UK's top 100 companies.

But shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said: "Before Labour start lecturing businesses about equality, [Equalities Minister] Harriet Harman should look a bit closer to home and examine the government's woeful record at getting women into senior positions in the civil service."

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also pledged his support to United Nations International Women's Day.

"As we celebrate the great strides that have been taken towards gender equality, it is also an opportunity to focus on the battles for fairness, both at home and abroad, yet to be won."

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