At our last All-Member meeting Barb Roberts and Mary Shannon gave a report from Labour’s National Women’s Conference held on 23-24 February 2019. You can read Mary’s written report below.
Abbreviations HSS – Hackney South and Shoreditch; CLP – Constituency Labour Party; WF – Women’s Forum; WCAC – Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee.
Definitions: Affiliates – Organisations affiliated to the Labour Party; Trade Unions and Socialist Societies.
Procedures: Compositing – This involves taking all the motions submitted in a particular topic area and taking the best of each to form a ‘composite motion’, to be debated at the conference. This usually happens at a meeting the night before Conference, and involves a delegate from every CLP or affiliate that submitted a motion on the relevant topic, a member of the WCAC, Labour Party staff and a member of the Shadow Cabinet, to give advice.
As the first stand-alone two day National Women’s Conference in decades, it is a work in progress. It’s a positive development that the Women’s Conference is now policy-making, with 2 of its 8 motions voted by delegates to be submitted to the full Labour Conference for debate. However, the status of the other 6 motions passed remains unsure. Yes, they will help form party policy, but it is not clear exactly how.
The 8 motions passed were:
Topics as chosen by CLPs
Rights for Migrant Women
Early Years, Education and Childcare
Topics as chosen by affiliates:
Violence Against Women and Girls
Universal Credit and Employment Support
Women in the Workforce
I think it is significant that the eight motions prioritised by CLPs and affiliates focused not on “glass ceiling” issues, which in my view, can buy into the myth of the meritocracy, but on issues about the lives of poor, marginalised and vulnerable women in our society, as well as on issues which concern all women.
I’d like to focus on the 3 motions with which HSS Women’s Forum has been connected.
Firstly, Abortion Rights. At the last, one day Women’s Conference in September 2019, HSS, along with other CLPs and affiliates, submitted a motion calling for the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, under which abortion remains a criminal offence. (The 1967 Act only provides exemptions to abortion being a crime.) Women and medical staff are therefore placed at risk of prosecution, and have been prosecuted for decisions taken in the best interests of the woman involved. This conference, a further motion concentrated on resolving the anomalous situation in Northern Ireland, where women have virtually no access to free and safe terminations, and seeks to commit a Labour Government to decriminalising abortion in the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Secondly, Social Care. This motion was brought by Hackney North CLP, along with other CLPs and UNISON. It fully supports Labour’s manifesto commitment to building a National Care Service, and sets out to state how this should happen, with regard to ensuring safe, comprehensive and high quality care for all who need it, protecting and improving the pay, conditions and professional recognition of all care workers, the majority of whom are women, and recognising and supporting unpaid carers, the majority of whom are also women.
In my view, two clear and crucial demands in the Hackney North motion were watered down in the compositing process. These were for care to be free at the point of delivery, and for a fully funded service financed by progressive taxation. HSS Women’s Forum also passed the Hackney North version at our January meeting. Clearly, there is debate to be had on this, and we have an opportunity to express our views in the current National Policy Forum consultation.
Finally, Rights for Migrant Women. Following the HSS Women’s Forum 2018 meeting on how the hostile environment impacts on migrant women’s access to NHS, and particularly maternity care, our CLP (along with other CLPs) submitted a motion calling for an end to all charges for maternity care for undocumented women. This practice targets traumatised, often isolated, and vulnerable women, and puts both them and their babies at serious risk.
In compositing, this was coupled with a motion calling for an end to the detention of asylum seeking women, pregnant women and survivors of sex-based violence, and a 28-day limit on all detention. It also calls for the abolition of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ status for all women experiencing male violence.
This was one of the two motions (the other on Universal Credit) which conference voted to be submitted to full Conference in September. I am particularly pleased about this as it will be an opportunity for the Labour Party to say very publicly that it does not view migrants, and migrant women in particular as “other”, but as fellow human beings, and also to reaffirm the founding principles of the NHS as a publicly funded health service, free for all.
I’d like to make my last remark about the International Plenary which took place for 45 minutes at the end of the first day. It was interesting, and inspiring, with speakers from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana, However, it did feel a little tokenistic, and I would like to see a greater focus on internationalism at future conferences. One motion on Women and Climate Change, and another on Palestine were submitted initially, but didn’t make it to the final eight. As well as domestic policy, I think we should be seeking to shape Labour’s foreign policy to have women’s experiences and perspectives at its heart.