No time to stay silent

Margaret Owen asks, why is Starmer ignoring the obvious ways to win the women’s vote?

The balls are all in his court. Why is Keir Starmer so silent, so reluctant to challenge the Government on their multiple violations of gender-related international human rights and humanitarian law?

The Tories, from the time when they were in coalition with the Lib Dems in 2010, have persistently betrayed the rights of women and girls, not just those living here in the UK but, through our foreign policies, uncounted numbers of women and girls living overseas, especially in the global south. But our hopes that Labour would support our struggle for real gender equality and women’s empowerment have been dashed, in spite of our many pleas to Starmer to act in our interests.

In 2010, the Tories abolished our much-admired institutional mechanism for women, the Women’s National Commission, without any consultation with UK women’s NGOs, depriving women here of a powerful body that had been set up on a statutory basis in 1969 and was admired for its composition and working methods across the globe. This act alone infringed our international treaty obligations to have such an established body.

However, the Labour leader still has time to do what, legally and morally, he has a duty to do, and show we women who have voted for his party for many decades that he is listening to us. He should commit to righting the wrongs we have all suffered from 13 years of Conservative misrule. In so doing, he would rally the women’s vote and ensure he has a healthy majority following the next election.

There are so many examples of latent racism and misogyny in Tory policies, ever more extreme following Brexit. I will focus just on three that Starmer, and hopefully his new campaign director, Sue Gray, will address.

Women want full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and respect and compliance with the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

Shamefully, Sunak and his ministerial colleagues have declared that in post-Brexit UK, it’s the economy and trade considerations that must take precedence over human rights. In this context, women’s rights can be forgotten, in spite of the evidence that all over the world, in developed countries and in the global south, that violence against women and girls in all its different forms is on the increase, and we are witnessing a horrendous pushback on women’s rights in too many UN member states as male-led, chauvinist, warmongering, extremist, populist, right-wing regimes gain power.

Sunak’s government has said it intends to withdraw from the CEDAW, which the UK ratified in 1986. Scandalously, and further ruining our reputation for respect for the law, it has refused to comply with any of the major recommendations given by the UN CEDAW Committee following its last two four-yearly reports. 

These included filling the gap left by the abolition of the WNC; putting into domestic legislation the CEDAW articles; and analysing and remedying the impact assessment of Osborne’s austerity cuts and of Brexit on women and girls. The indifference of this government to the CEDAW and to our obligations – not just under the BPFA but in the latest “agreed conclusions” of the 67th session of the UN CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) – destroys any reputation we once had for fairness and respect for the rule of law.

Moreover, in 37 years, the UK has never once nominated anyone to CEDAW’s 26-member committee. Starmer can change this show of indifference.

With utter impunity, the Tories are also breaching the 1951 Refugee Act, in multiple ways including through their Illegal Migration Bill. They are locking up traumatised women asylum seekers in immigration removal centres such as the one in Derwentside in a remote part of  County Durham.  

The campaign to close it down is led by Women for Refugee Women and No To Hassockfield. This unlawful prison is confining deeply traumatised women who have fled rape and extreme violence.

Lastly, why is Labour not protesting the Tories’ continual sale of arms and signing of trade deals with regimes that are conducting femicides within their genocides, such as Erdoğan’s in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and Modi’s in Kashmir – both using rape as a weapon of war.

This is no time to be silent. There are many more examples. I will vote Labour as I revere my local MP Andy Slaughter, but I am dismayed by Starmer’s passivity on these crucial gender issues. Can someone give him the needed push?


  1. there is nothing that indicates starmer has ever had a pro feminist agenda THe only nod in that direction in his 10 points leaflet in 2020 was the recognition of equal pay, so nothing is particularly suprising about his current direction

    trevor fisher

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