In the run up to the election the Fawcett Society led “ What About Women?” coalition laid down the gauntlet to the main political parties to say what their policies on key issues like the economy, political reform and crime,  will mean for women.

Now the starting gun has been fired, Fawcett is publishing what it thinks of their answers so far. And what should be in the parties’ manifestos if they really are serious about women’s lives in the long term not just our votes in the short term. (The questions asked of the parties and accompanying briefing are here).

Ceri Goddard, Fawcett’s Chief Executive, said:

“Despite parties clearly targeting certain groups of women, especially ‘mums in the marginals’, when pushed on policy detail many of their answers so far either don’t tell us enough or don’t go anywhere near far enough to make any real difference for women. Even more worryingly some of policies being discussed could actually mean a backwards move for women’s equality.”

“We are particularly worried about the parties’ policies, or lack of, on women and the economy. Whilst they all claim to be committed to women’s equality none of them are prepared to commit to assessing how their deficit cutting plans could impact on women.

“The omission of this simple, no cost commitment speaks volumes about where women’s equality sits in the political pecking order.”

“Whatever combination of tax and spending cuts is used and whenever it happens, government must ensure that women, who already earn less and own less, and also support our social care system with over 80 billion of ‘free’ care giving, don’t bear the brunt of cuts in spending. And we need to see properly thought out plans – not platitudes – about how women’s contribution to economic growth and business can be better valued and supported”.

Where there are firm policies many of them do not go far enough or fail:

One example is the issue of parental leave. The current maternity/ paternity leave entitlement assumes and perpetuates child caring by women only – and the parties recognise this. But their policies fall well short of really encouraging men to share in this leave and childcare. The Conservatives even say they will limit men to one period of leave, offering little flexibility in parenting decisions over the crucial early years.

There are some welcome commitments from all the parties according to the Society:

All three commit to retaining the winter fuel allowance and more money for rape crisis centres. But on the big issues, the economy, crime, balancing work and family life, all the parties fall short or haven’t explained how their policies in these areas will progress not regress women’s equality.

Fawcett say there are a number of areas for concern however:

The Conservatives opposition to the Equal Pay clauses of the Equalities Act, and their proposals for both a married tax allowance and removing the so called ‘couple penalty’ could actually be regressive for women’s equality. The Labour Party’s record in power has had some positive outcomes but their answers point to a stagnation of ideas rather than looking to further advance equality and the Liberal Democrats are contradictory, while claiming to be the party of parliamentary reform they singularly fail to take women’s under representation seriously at all, failing to support women only shortlists.

None of the parties has committed to conduct and publish a gender impact assessment of their budget plans or to proper cross government strategy on women’s rights – the absence of which could see current gender inequalities worsen.

Fawcett has published its views on each of the parties’ answers to the questions we asked them.  They indicate what they welcome, where we have concerns and suggestions for action they could commit to in their manifestos that would make a difference for women.