Saturday, September 19, 2009

Real Women get Liberal Democrat Conference off to a cracking start

Someone in the first policy debate of the Conference complained that the Real Women policy paper had in some way been sidelined by giving it such an early slot in the agenda. I don't think so. If the quality of the debate we saw this afternoon continues over the next five days, then we're in for a real treat.

I was particularly impressed with the contributions of so many Scottish speakers too, but more of that in a moment.

The Debate was about the Real Women policy paper which has attracted widespread media attention. Its design has attracted a bit of criticism. Liberal Democrats are used to having their policies espoused in long, closely typed policy papers, set out in two columns, a bit like the Bible. This one is more like Bella, or Heat than that - but I think it's good that we've produced something in a format that others might actually want to read. Jo Swinson herself suggested leaving spare copies in doctors' surgeries or giving them to a friend to spread the word rather than helping your local authority meet its recycling target.

The main points of controversy in the paper were to do with proposals to have airbrushed adverts labelled, and to ban airbrushed ads aimed at the under 16s and there was an amendment in to delete that part of it. There was also to be a separate vote on proposals for name blanking in job applications.

The debate was extremely well balanced and chaired excellently, if a bit ruthlessly at times by Cllr Sarah Boad. She wisely selected people to speak about all aspects of the policy paper, not just the controversial ones, so we got a good flavour of what it was about.

The first Scottish speaker was Jo Swinson MP who was absolutely passionate on the issue of body image, talking about giving information on what had been airbrushed was essential to liberty, and about how these proposals had struck a real chord with women who had contacted her. She spoke about how most women looked upon the "Westminster playground politics" with exasperation but who were in total sympathy with the proposals in this document.

Also from Scotland was the proposer of the amendment deleting the airbrushing proposals, our own Bernard. On this occasion I disagreed with every single word he said.

Jill Hope spoke about the number of women and babies who were dying because there weren't enough midwives and wanted more attention paid to that issue.

Susan Gaszczak spoke about her experience of running weight loss classes, where women were putting up on their fridges as inspiration pictures which had been airbrushed, presenting an image to them that was completely unobtainable.

Jacquie Bell, from Scottish Women Liberal Democrats, spoke of the pressures on carers, who are predominantly women and how the proposals would help them.

Lizzie Jewkes highlighted what she saw was a lifesaving clause in the motion. She spoke of women and young girls who were not able to get help if they suffered domestic abuse because their immigration status did not give them recourse to public funds. She gave the horrifying statistic of 10 women in this situation committing suicide every week. She spoke of how these women had the choice of putting up with the abuse or being deported back to a family who may not want them. She compared the tiny cost of allowing these women access to the public funds that would enable them to get into a refuge to the astronomic cost of keeping the 4 men who killed one woman in jail.

I think the speech of the debate came from Ettie Spencer, a first time Conference goer from East Lothian. She's worked in mental health and she's an artist and mother of 6 and she spoke of how her teenage daughter had said to her that she felt that boys had more fun, and how even though she was perfectly proportioned, she thought she was fat. She asked why on earth we should protect the super rich advertising industry and huge corporations at the expense of women and young girls.

Katy Gordon, PPC for Glasgow North spoke of how she'd had a discussion with the women at the North West Glasgow Women's Centre. They'd spoken about the issues around body image and independently they had suggested all the policies that were in the paper. She gave examples of a mother who suspected her young daughter was using laxatives after becoming distressed because her body didn't match up with the flawless portraits in magazines. She also made the very valid point that Marilyn Monroe would have been considered fat (actually I think obese) today. If you look at the stick that's handed out to poor Natalie Cassidy, who used to play Sonia in EastEnders, for being a size 16, in the media, you can see the truth in what she was saying.

Elaine Bagshaw, Chair of Liberal Youth made a clear, confident and well reasoned argument in favour of the whole policy document, talking about how Labour had been in power for most of her life yet had done very little to advance the cause of equality. She talked about the pressures of being assaulted with images which were completely fake, unrealistic and unachievable. Liberal Youth in general is making an awesome contribution to the Party at the moment and it's great to see. What I will say is that 20 years ago, I was feeling as passionately about the issues she was espousing today and I hope that her's is the generation that sees the change that we need.

Neil Fawcett spoke from the perspective of a dad, having to listen to his young daughter worry about being fat. No child, he said, should have to go through that.

Lynne Featherstone ended the debate with a simple conclusion - she compared women and the rich global corporations who prey on their insecurities as David and Goliath and challenged Conference to say whose side they were on.

Conference was very clear on the matter, rejecting moves to dilute the body image and name blanking policies.

This isn't the end of the road for the Real Women campaign - join in here and add your name for the calls for change.

1 comment:

Stephen Glenn said...

Thanks for this Caron. I didn't get to actually see this debate I was elsewhere for training at the time. Good coverage as usual. The first thing I asked Katy when I saw her afterwards was was she called and got a big smile back.


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