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9.1 million women hold the balance of the election in their hands - what does the colour of a bus matter?

Harriet Harman launched a campaign to engage women in the general election process this week using a minibus to get around in, a bus exactly the same colour as every backdrop I've seen behind the leader of our party, every conference speaker, including front bench MPs both men and women (see pic of Ed Miliband below), for the last few years. And yet when Harriet Harman launches a campaign to engage women, she gets hammered. For the colour of the bus.

It wasn't surprising that some of the newspapers gave her a hard time about it. What was more disappointing was that so many women who care about domestic violence, or want more childcare, or are concerned about the gender pay gap, joined in, on the grounds that the colour was sexist.

I didn't campaign for the sort of gender equality where someone can judge me for the colour of my clothes any more than the colour of my skin. I do completely despair at the "pinkification" of so-called "girls' toys". But I'm much more worried by the concept of "girls' toys" than their colour.

I also know that in some countries, the colours carry completely different connotations - in Belgium, for example, blue is for girls and pink is for boys.

I'd rather we dropped both sets of classification by colour. I'd rather boys and girls were free and comfortable to choose whether or not to wear pink, or blue, or any colour they want (I'm personally unlikely ever to choose to wear yellow).

But right now I want to talk about the 9.1 million women who didn't vote in the last general election and how we get talking to those women, how we show women that we understand that they are more concerned about decent pay, or a job for their children, or dealing with discrimination or domestic abuse, or worrying about their daughters being sexually harassed in town, or bothered that their children's school is struggling.

Those 9.1 million women didn't choose not to vote because of the colour of a van. They aren't going to choose to vote or not this time because of the colour of a bus.

Harriet Harman has shown outstanding leadership for years, she's had to deal Ed_with_pink_backdrop.jpgwith outrageous sexism and abuse in the press and elsewhere, she's shown great courage in taking a stand on gender equality, she showed a whole generation of us that motherhood isn't incompatible with parliamentary office when she campaigned for election whilst pregnant (I'm not saying that's easy - I'm impressed, but also glad she showed us all that it can be done, so more women can at least think " could I do that?").

I think such is the disdain that some public figures, press and others have for those of us who pursue equality, particularly gender equality, that it would not have mattered what colour the bus was, Harriet Harman would have got rubbished for it. So, to those of you who, like me, are worried about what's happened under the Coalition government to women's employment, to funding for refuges, to Legal Aid for contested child contact hearings for victims of domestic violence, to the gender pay gap, please, let's not us join in with the critics and get side-tracked into criticising someone who is trying to show leadership on all of these vital matters.

This year she's once again taking the lead in showing the country that Labour's got a track record on gender equality, tackling all forms of discrimination and closing the gender gap in representation in parliament. She's helping to bring women into a vision where the world is a better, more equal, fairer place - and she's getting women talking about the election.

Once again, I'm proud to be a Labour woman.

 

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