Anneliese Dodds’ speech at Labour’s National Annual Women’s Conference 2023

Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Party Chair and Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, speaking at Labour’s National Annual Women’s Conference 2023, said:

Thank you for that introduction, Angela.

And thank you for all the great work you do for women, not least on the New Deal for Working People which will massively improve women’s working lives. 

Speaking of great work for women, wasn’t this a brilliant summer for women’s sport? 

The Lionesses’ amazing run to the World Cup final. The thrilling Women’s Ashes series. England reaching the Netball World Championship final. 

I want to congratulate these women for smashing through barriers in sport. And send my solidarity to Jenni Hermoso and her Spanish teammates. 

These women faced open misogyny in their moment of ultimate triumph and said: we won’t stand for it. Sisters, we stand with you.

I also want to send my solidarity to the women of Ukraine and Afghanistan, who have showed such courage in the face of oppression, harassment and violence. 

And for those women and their children who have fled their home to seek refuge in our country – you are welcome here.

Friends, we gather today for our first in-person women’s conference since 2019. 

The last four years have been immensely challenging.

First Covid-19. Then the cost of living crisis.

Thanks to the Conservatives, women paid the price for both.

Who stood by while women bore the brunt of rising poverty before the pandemic?

The Tories did.

Who left women hundreds of pounds a year worse off today than they were in 2010?

The Tories did.

Who allowed the gender pay gap to rise?

The Tories did.

This is the cost of the Conservatives – and women can’t afford another five years of it.

Politics is about priorities. And the Conservatives have deprioritised women.

Just look at the ministerial merry-go-round in the Government Equalities Office. 

At our last women’s conference in March 2022, Liz Truss was Minister for Women and Equalities – remember her?

By this time last year, ‘Lettuce Liz’ had replaced herself as Minister for Women and Equalities with Nadhim Zahawi – but never bothered to allocate him any responsibilities.

Today Kemi Badenoch holds the role – a Minister who, when faced with the epidemic of violence against women and girls, soaring NHS waiting lists for women and the pernicious gender pay gap, is nowhere to be found.

She does, however, have time to pursue her top priority – appointing a toilet tsar.

And she’s supported in that vital work by Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor who did nothing to help women brutally exposed to the cost of living crisis.

Well, today I have a message for them both: 

You can’t try and claim ownership of women’s equality if your party has been failing women for thirteen years. 

It’s Labour that is the true party of women’s equality. The party of the Equal Pay Act. The party that supported women to exercise bodily autonomy with the right to choose. The party of the Equality Act. And so much more.

We’ll take no lessons on women’s equality from the Conservatives.

Instead, we learn from those who actually delivered for women in government. Leaders like Harriet Harman, the architect of our Equality Act. 

Harriet is standing down at the next election after more than forty years as an MP. The Mother of the House. The second woman Leader of the Opposition. A woman who has done so much to advance women’s equality.

Harriet, you have been a brilliant servant to our party and our country. I’m sure the whole hall will join me in thanking you for that service.

Harriet’s achievements remind us of the progress we have made for women’s equality. And the need for strong women in Parliament to deliver it.

Because as Harriet herself said: “There are some things only women MPs can do, and without women, they will not be done”.

That’s why women’s representation in Parliament is so important. And why I’m so proud that Labour is the first political party to reach parity in terms of men and women MPs.

A great example of how positive action works.

Action that was taken by Labour. But opposed by the Tories. The same old story. 

And for 13 years this useless Conservative Government has failed to do anything to boost diversity in politics. So as usual, it is left to Labour to put that right.

I can announce today that the next Labour Government will enact Section 106 of the Equality Act. We will require political parties to publish anonymised data on the diversity of their candidates – so that every party competing for elections to Westminster, to Holyrood or to the Senedd has a duty to demonstrate progress.

The Conservatives could have done this years ago, but they didn’t have the guts. Only Labour will act to make politics more representative of the country we serve.

To bring people with different experiences and backgrounds into Parliament, to do the things that only women MPs, Black, Asian and ethnic minority MPs, disabled MPs and LGBT+ MPs can do.

Take the menopause. This is a condition that affects 51% of the population. If it happened to men, there would be outrage. Research. Policy solutions. And action. Instead, change has happened at a glacial pace. 

Six months ago, I started a national conversation about how we properly support women in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

Women of our age do a lot, and complain little. 

We’re often holding down a job, going through menopause, caring for elderly parents, supporting older children and more. The pressure is immense – and our potential too often untapped. 

If women aged 50-64 had the same employment rate now as before the pandemic, they could be contributing up to £7 billion more to the UK economy – £7 billion worth of untapped contribution and creativity.

It’s a tragedy that one in ten women experiencing menopause leave their jobs and 14% reduce their hours due to the lack of support in the workplace.

The Conservatives don’t care about this. But Labour does – and that’s why I announced this year that Labour will require large employers to publish menopause action plans to support their women workers. 

It’s also why I can announce today that the next Labour Government will produce menopause workplace guidance to help women working for small and medium-sized businesses too.

Conference, with the right support we can unleash the talent and creativity of women across our country. That’s good for women. Good for business. And good for the economy too.

Because we know that women’s equality and economic growth go hand in hand. 

That’s why the last Labour Government legislated to support women to reach their full potential.

Legislation like our Equality Act, which is still protecting women from discrimination in countless ways every day. 

The Conservatives will never understand that success is not achieved by pushing people down – but by pulling everyone up. 

For them, equality is just an afterthought or a fight to pick. But for Labour it is fundamental to who we are. 

That’s why it’s such an honour and a privilege to do this job. If Labour wins the next election, I will become the UK’s first ever Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, with a seat at the top table, dedicated to advocating for women in all their diversity in every Cabinet conversation.

That alone though won’t be enough to give women their future back. To do that, we must harness the talent, creativity and brilliance of every woman in our country.

How? With Labour’s mission-driven agenda for a better Britain.

Because to deliver the highest sustained growth in the G7, we will create better workplaces for women.

We’ll start with our New Deal for Working People. From flexible working to stronger equal pay rights to tackling workplace harassment and so much more, this will transform the lives of working women everywhere, including LGBT+, Black, Asian and ethnic minority, and disabled women.

And we will tap into the talents of women of all ages, whether by supporting start-ups and female entrepreneurs or by bringing in that better workplace support for women experiencing menopause. 

We’ll also tackle the Gender Pay Gap, building on the findings of the review currently being led by Baroness Frances O’Grady, supported by Rachel Reeves, Angela and myself.

We will make Britain a clean energy superpower, ensuring women benefit from the good, new jobs the transition will create.

We will build an NHS fit for the future to support women with their health and wellbeing, from cutting gynaecology waiting lists to delivering better access to mental health support.

And we will incentivise continuity of care in maternity services to reverse the shameful increase in women dying in childbirth – and set a target to close the shocking gap that leaves Black women four times more likely to die while giving birth.

We will deliver safer streets, homes, and workplaces – and use every lever to halve the level of violence against women and girls, making this a government-wide strategic commitment. 

We will make hatred against women the hate crime we know it to be, and strengthen existing laws so that hate crimes against LGBT+ and disabled women attract the same, tough sentences. 

We will break down barriers to opportunity at every stage by enacting the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act and introducing a Race Equality Act to tackle the structural racial inequality that scars our society.

And we will oppose any Conservative attempt to undermine Labour’s Equality Act, and protect and uphold it in government.

Sisters, this is Labour’s plan for women.

To put women at the heart of our mission-driven agenda for government.

To provide every woman with a fair shot at life, in every part of our country.

To give women their hope, their optimism and their future back. 

Thank you.