““Please re-blog if you’re: 1. Living in the U.S., 2. Planning to join the general strike on May 1, Or, 3. Planning to attend a rally, march etc. even if you plan to go to work/school that day. Let’s get a ton of notes. Let’s do it!!!””
Lizzy Davies, Guardian:
Hundreds of demonstrators will take to the streets in rubber gloves, headscarves and full-skirted frocks on Saturday to protest against government cuts which they say are hitting women disproportionately hard and risk setting the battle for equality back decades.
In what it describes as its first nationwide “call to arms” in nearly a century-and-a-half of activism, the Fawcett Society is urging people to turn out in 1950s gear for a march past Downing Street aimed at telling David Cameron not to let austerity measures “turn back time” on women’s rights. Similar rallies in other cities, including Coventry, Bristol and Manchester, are to culminate in tea parties. In Oxford, a 1950s-themed “flash mob” is to take place: the most committed participants are urged to come in handcuffs with which they can chain themselves “to the kitchen sink”.
For an organisation which tends to shy away from more raucous feminist tactics in favour of measured, persistent campaigning, Fawcett’s Day of Action is a departure. But, in a week when the number of women out of work across the country hit a 23-year high of 1.09 million, Fawcett’s acting chief executive, Anna Bird, said there was no time to lose.
“We think we are very much at a watershed moment for women’s rights in the UK,” she said. “We think that the impact of austerity has brought us to a tipping point where, while we have got used to steady progress towards greater equality, we’re now seeing a risk of slipping backwards. We cannot afford to let that happen.”
The warning comes amid growing concern that women will be hit hardest by cuts to benefits and public services such as SureStart children’s centres, and will be more likely to take on roles plugging the gap once such state services have been withdrawn.
It is, above all, in the job market that some organisations, including Fawcett, believe the damage will be done: as 65% of the public sector workforce, female employees will be disproportionately affected by job cuts. The TUC, which this week released a “tool kit” guide to raising awareness about the impact of the cuts on women, estimates that 325,000 of the 500,000 people who will lose their jobs as a result of public sector cuts will be women.
Dave Prentice, general secretary of Unison, said: “Is it any wonder that the coalition are losing the support of women voters? It is a triple whammy for women who are being hit hard by unemployment, the rising cost of living as well as cuts to benefits and services to young people.”
For Saturday’s march, activists all over the country will be rallying support. Chloe Cook, 20, the head of Bournemouth Students’ Feminist Society, said she and her friends had been inspired to take action at last weekend’s Fem 11 conference in London. “This is probably the most important feminist cause for British women to fight for right now. We need to remind the government that ‘women’s issues’ aren’t just ‘women’s issues’. They are society’s issues,” she said.
Alongside those marching in solidarity will be those who have experienced first-hand the impact of the cuts. Maggie Cowan, 59, from Walthamstow in north-east London, is one of those: after working in the careers service for 22 years, she was made redundant in July as an indirect result of local authority cuts to Connexions advice centres. Because of the closures, the organisation that employed her decided to close its head office. Of about a dozen of her colleagues, only one was male.
Since September, she has had a part-time job on a temporary contract working with young people to try to keep them in education. But the summer was hard. “I was anxious. Looking for work is difficult – because of my age and I accept I may not look like the best prospect,” she joked. “I applied for lots and lots of jobs … I just seemed to be filling in application forms and sending off CVs left, right and centre.”
As her contract is due to end in the spring, Cowan, the breadwinner in her family, admits she is insecure. “I have to be really careful about how much money I spend because come next March I don’t know what I’ll be doing,” she said. “There is pressure. The only other time in my life I haven’t worked is when I stopped to have my children.”
After months of criticism, the government shows signs of waking up to concerns about the impact of the cuts on women. In September, a leaked memo revealed that Downing Street was considering a raft of measures aimed at winning back female voters. Earlier this month the home secretary, Theresa May, outlined an ambitious plan to recruit and train 5,000 volunteer business mentors to help budding female entrepreneurs. This week it emerged that Cameron is seeking to hire a special adviser to check whether policy is “women-friendly”.
Bird welcomed this recognition but said the government had failed so far to take action that would really make a difference. Fawcett has outlined policies it wants the government to take, including the ringfencing of funding for SureStart children’s centres and pressure on local authorities not to cut services concerned with combating violence against women.
For Cowan, the government’s apparent concern is too little, too late. “[It’s] locking the stable door after the horse has bolted,” she said. “The damage has been done. It doesn’t make you feel any better that they recognise that there might be some harm there after they’ve inflicted the harm on all of us.”