Melanie McDonagh

Why must we have a Minister for Women?

Why must we have a Minister for Women?
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Does it make you feel better about yourself, girls, ladies, to know that if Labour’s elected, Ed Miliband will have a Secretary of State for Women, and Equalities, with Cabinet rank? Or do you find yourself asking what a Minister for Women has ever done for anyone, beyond guaranteeing that at least one member of the Cabinet will be a paid up woman? It was a bit like that when Sajid Javid was appointed Culture Secretary and everyone started asking what he’d ever done to qualify in the way of going to the opera, reading books etc. When Kitty Morgan was appointed Minister for Women, it was a different matter. A few sourpusses opined that she didn’t qualify, not really, on account of not being in favour of gay marriage – I warmed to her instantly – but she qualified in a very real sense on the basis of being and always having been, a woman. Funnily enough, no one seems to suggest that you have to be a mother too, though I suppose it gives you a pertinent insight into the female condition.

Actually, I’d always assumed that Jo Swinson, the exciting LibDem, was minister for woman because of the way she’d fearlessly tackle issues such as equal pay – adopting, for instance,  The Feminist Times’ campaign to encourage women to ask their male colleagues how much they earn (good luck with that) – but it turns out that no, she was just doing women on the basis she was equalities minister back then.

I suppose there may be issues that involve women exclusively – FGM for instance, though that’s turning into Michael Gove’s big thing – or possibly gender selective abortion, though I’d trust the Health Secretary with that one. What does the minister for women do? And if there’s a minister for women, do not men have their own very special needs? I can see that there may be a case for someone to talk on behalf of carers, families, the elderly and children, and I suppose these things affect women more than men though it strikes me as a bit sexist to say so. But a minister for women qua women? Must we? Really?

I can see, though, how it’ll work if it ever comes to Ed’s Secretary of State for Women and Equalities. You can whistle for anyone who’s anti-abortion or iffy on gay marriage and transgender issues getting a smell of that job. It’ll be one for Harriet Harman’s spiritual daughters. There are women and women, you know. And a Labour equivalent of Ann Widdecombe would so not qualify.