Election '97: Lib-Dems take stand on women's rights

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Indy Politics
Rights to make it easier for women to take violent husbands to court, and to receive state pensions even if they have not worked, will form a key part of the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

The party is aiming to promote itself as the true home of sexual equality with an appeal to women voters today from Baroness (Shirley) Williams and with a full chapter devoted to their concerns tomorrow in its manifesto.

With women making up the majority of floating voters, Liberal Democrats hope their emphasis will win them support. The party believes there is still a long way to go before British women have equal opportunities.

Among the promises in the manifesto for the first Parliament of a Liberal Democrat government is a pledge to strengthen civil law remedies for victims of domestic violence. This would mean clearer rules on the granting of protection orders, injunctions and rights of occupancy for women in the family home. The party would also improve the provision of refuge places for victims of violence, and would aim to improve the treatment of rape victims in the courts. They would be given progress reports on their cases, allowed separate waiting rooms from defendants in courts, and if their attackers are convicted they would be told their release dates from prison.

Over time, the party would like to replace the contributory state pension scheme which can leave women with only basic pensions if they have taken long career breaks. Instead, it would base the entitlement to a full pension on citizenship and residence in the United Kingdom. Like the other parties, the Liberal Democrats want women to benefit from the splitting of their husbands' pensions on divorce.

The party also wants to work to extend employment and pension rights to part-time employees, many of whom are women. It also plans tougher obligations on employers to establish equal opportunities procedures and tougher policing of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.

Targets for the number of women in public life will also be promoted in the manifesto. It will promise that within a decade, at least a third of all people on public bodies would be women. The procedures and facilities of the House of Commons would be reformed to make them more accommodating to women and families.

Baroness Williams, who is to play a major role in the party's election campaign, will set out its stall to women voters today although the detail will be in the manifesto. She will argue that all the party's major policies pay attention to the needs of women. Education, the health service, child care, crime prevention, a carer's charter and a better public transport infrastructure are all things that they care about, she will argue.

A party spokeswoman said: "As far as the Tories are concerned women are just half of a married couple. There is no genuine equality of opportunity in their manifesto, but ours is underpinned by it."