RESPECT CALLS FOR:
* Full enforcement of equal pay legislation. Fine employers who flout this legislation.
* Universal childcare in publicly funded nurseries for the full working day.
* End discrimination against women at work during pregnancy and on returning to work.
* Extend parental leave entitlements to all employees regardless of size of workforce.
* Women must be free from domestic violence. Safe accomodation should be provided where necessary.
* No sexual harrassment in the workplace.
* For a woman's right to choose.
* Mass campaigns uniting men and women to oppose sexism and fight for full equality.
A diverse group of women participated in the event, and speakers ranged from journalists, academics and councillors to trade union leaders, NGO workers and leaders of the anti-war movement. It was also an historical conference because though International Women's Day was founded in 1910, in recent years it has come to be celebrated largely as an apolitical event. The Respect conference was an attempt to put politics and issues of class back into discussions around women's oppression.
The six workshops attempted to capture the most pressing issues facing women in Britain and the west today. Issues discussed ranged from the rise of raunch culture and abortion rights to Muslim women and politics, and whether women in general are able to pursue a career, have children and be actively involved in politics all at the same time. The point was made that while women now produce the majority of the wealth in the world, no woman should have to make the choice between pursuing a career or having children, or sacrificing an active political life.
Journalist Victoria Brittain helped open the session along with Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition, Linda Smith from the Fire Brigades Union and Rania Khan, a young Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets. Victoria discussed the idea that men are never going to relinquish power willingly, while Lindsey pointed out that the huge inequalities in society today are "not just about individual relationships to society" but rather structural inequalities. "Women got the vote on the same basis as men in 1928. Laws were passed on equal pay and sex discrimination more than 30 years ago. Yet there is still huge inequality," she said.
Iraqi writer Haifa Zangana and Eli Rostami-Povey of Action Iran introduced a powerful session on how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have set back the position of women in those countries. Haifa noted that while Iraqi women were fighting alongside men in the resistance against the British in 1922, we now have a situation where an Iraqi woman MP considers it unacceptable to speak in public. Not a particularly inspiring role model for young women in Iraq.
The National Women's Conference was welcomed by participants as the first women's conference that Respect has organised, with enthusiasm for similar forums in the future which would allow Respect women members and non-members to discuss action on the issues raised, such as developing a Respect policy on work/life balance and supporting campaigns on abortion rights. The essence of the meeting was that while there have been clear advances, women are still fighting some of the same struggles today as they were from the beginning of the women's movement. The clear message was that politics must be put back into the fight for equality and that changing society and attitudes towards women are fundamental to realising women's rights