Theresa May feminist champion?

Has May championed women's rights during her premiership?


Opinion: It's time to set the record straight on Theresa May's 'feminist' legacy

Standing on the steps of Downing Street, Theresa May closed her resignation remarks by reflecting on her role as the UK's "second female prime minister, but certainly not the last". In stark contrast to her only female predecessor, Margaret Thatcher - who deemed just one woman in 11 years worthy of joining her in cabinet - it is telling that May chose to depart with a nod to her position as a consciously female leader.

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Is Theresa May a feminist champion?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

When Theresa May entered 10 Downing Street in 2016, she became the second female prime minister.

As she prepares to leave office, the legacy of her premiership will be reflected on. On Brexit, the reflections will not be kind, but what about her legacy for women?

Some call May a "true champion of women" as both home secretary, between 2010 and 2016, and prime minister, between 2016 and when she resigns after her successor is appointed.

Others argue, however, that her policies have been harmful towards women.

The Claim

Martha Gill argues that May's positive legacy is being a "feminist champion". In an article for the Guardian, she says that the prime minister did good work on domestic violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).

"Whatever else you may think of Theresa May," she writes. "she is a true champion of women."

As home secretary, for instance, she helped survivors of FGM and cracked down on the practice. In 2014, she said that it was time to end FGM and forced marriage "for everyone, everywhere, forever".

She also stood up for victims of domestic abuse, introducing a law about coercive control, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine. May described such behaviour in relationships as “tantamount to torture”.

Gill reports: "She supported shared parental leave and fought for equal pay. And as prime minister, she has introduced laws to tackle modern slavery."

She concludes: "But even if her real legacy is simply to have supported women int he party, that is likely to lead to more feminist policies.

"As May said when she announced her resignation, she may have been the second female prime minister, but she certainly won't be the last."

The Counterclaim

However, the Independent's Sophie Levin wants to set the record straight on May's 'feminist' legacy.

She says that the outgoing prime minister's "potted history of delicate gestures" is not enough to position herself as a champion of equality.

Levin argues it is "crucial to separate the rhetoric from the reality of May’s commitment to equality and women’s rights".

She writes: "Despite being proudly pictured in the Fawcett Society’s “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt, it’s far from crystal clear that May’s policies match her printworks...

"May might think of herself as a feminist, but often treats being one like she does her Frida Kahlo bracelet – an accessory, to be worn only when it matches."

Her hardline immigration policy has been described as "the state-sanctioned abuse of women" by Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

The austerity measures have seen local government funding cut by 30 per cent. Levin reports that an "extraordinary" 85 per cent of the burden fell on the heads of women - in particular women of colour and disabled women, who rely disproportionately on local services.

More than three quarters of local authorities have had to slash spending on domestic violence refuges - with a third of referrals turned away due to a lack of space and resources.

Levin adds that the policies May propagates further "weave inequality into the fabric of our society".

The Facts

In 2005, May launched Women2Women, a Tory group that helped elect more women to parliament. At the time, the Conservative Party had just 17 female MPs (out of 198).

After the 2010 election, this rose to 48 female MPs; and after 2015, there were 68.

As prime minister, she promoted women to senior positions - but her cabinet is still not gender-balanced.

When Amber Rudd was appointed as home secretary and Liz Truss as justice secretary in 2016, this was the first time that two of the top four positions, along with the chancellor and foreign secretary, were held by women at the same time. Rudd is now work and pensions secretary and Truss is the chief secretary to the Treasury.

However, resignations and reshuffles later, and all the top four positions are held by men. Out of the current 22 cabinet ministers, only four are women.

Truss, as the chief secretary to the Treasury, Claire Perry as energy minister and Caroline Nokes as immigration minister also attend cabinet meetings, but they are not cabinet ministers.

According to the Financial Times, reporting on the cabinet reshuffle in August last year, just six of 39 special advisers at Downing Street are women. Across all government departments, about one in four special advisers are women.

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The Guardian

Theresa May's positive legacy? She's a feminist champion | Martha Gill

Can you call yourself a feminist? Here's my test, and it applies to both men and women: how do you treat your female juniors? Do you talk passionately about female advancement in public while quietly squashing the careers of the women under you? Or are you a true champion? It is easy to identify the latter: women who have worked for them sing their praises for the rest of their lives. And whatever else you may think of Theresa May, she is a true champion of women.

How history judges the UK's second female prime minister depends on whether her successor messes up Brexit even more spectacularly than she has done.

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