This coming Sunday, the 8th of March, is International Women’s Day. This year, Oxford is marking the 50th anniversary of the first Women’s Liberation Conference, which was held at our very own Ruskin college back in 1970. Oxford’s International Women’s Festival, currently running at venues across the city, showcases the diversity of women’s experience both in Oxford, and across the world.
Oxford, and the UK, has come a long way since then. To name just a few recent local successes, Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support has won 115 thousand pounds of funding, which will allow it to expand its services, supporting more new mums. Other services, like the Oxford Baby Bank and Motherkind, are starting up. The Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre recently commemorated forty years of helping local women escape and deal with abuse and rape.
But while we have come far in terms of gender equality since 1970, there is still nonetheless a long way to go. Women still only make up 202 out of the 650 Members of Parliament- although after the last election, the Labour Party actually has more female than male MPs.
We also need to look at the conditions facing many women in our city. The Women’s Budget Group recently indicated how a very high proportion of women are priced out of renting and buying a home in Oxford- a problem, of course, also faced by many men, albeit to a lesser extent given their generally higher incomes and more stable employment. More extended use of the Oxford Living Wage will help – but we also desperately need an Oxford housing allowance for our NHS workers, given current pressures on recruitment, and far more genuinely affordable and social housing.
As many readers will be aware, those working within the University and Colleges have recently been under the spotlight. The Universities and Colleges Union has taken industrial action on pensions and working conditions, including equal pay- where much more needs to be done. And that is even aside from the challenges of very expensive local childcare.
This Sunday, as part of the Women’s Festival, it is the Oxford ‘reclaim the night’ march. While it is a brilliant initiative, it is disappointing that it is still the case that women do not always feel safe on our streets and our public transport.
Nationally, women’s services are drastically underfunded. We need more central government funding to ensure women’s shelters can be kept open, and we need protections for workers in place to secure better working conditions for women. Internationally, there is much to be done, and it is crucial that where we can, we as a nation support women in crisis, and disproportionately impacted by crisis, across the world.
I will continue to push for women’s equality through my work in parliament, and I am sure people across the city will continue to fight for women’s rights. But we must all continue to celebrate how far we have come, and the women around us, too.