Labour women warn against 'macho' policies

Senior figures in the Labour Party, including Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister, Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, and Margaret Hodge, Work and Pensions minister, are insisting Labour's "renewal" programme will fail unless it includes more female-friendly policies.

A "women's manifesto" drawn up by female members of the Parliamentary Labour Party is to ensure that issues such as childcare are central to the Government's agenda.

The move follows concern that Labour could lose women voters to a reinvigorated Tory party led by David Cameron.

Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have stressed the need for Labour to renew itself in office with forward-looking policies to help secure a fourth term.

Ms Harman, who is leading the initiative, warned that efforts to attract voters could fail unless women-friendly policies were central to the process.

"The renewal of the party and the Government will fail unless it has gender issues at its heart, and it's Labour women who must lead and shape that agenda," Ms Harman said. "We have made huge progress on childcare but we are still very far from quality and available childcare for all. We have opened up the issue of domestic violence, but the services to support women who have suffered from domestic violence are still thin and patchy."

The initiative is backed by a coalition across Labour's political spectrum, including Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, Diane Abbott, left-wing MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and Barbara Follett MP, chairwoman of the women's Parliamentary Labour Party.

Ms Jowell is to launch a series of "listening to women" seminars around Britain.

Education and healthcare are at the centre of Labour reforms, but women MPs fear not enough progress will be made on childcare, maternity leave and women's rights at work in preparing for a fourth term in office.

A series of seminars on women's policies, held in conjunction with the Fawcett Society, which promotes women in public life, is to be held in the House of Commons.

WHAT BLAIR'S WOMEN WANT...

Making childcare more widely available

Greater support, including refuge places, for victims of domestic violence

Action on sex discrimination at work, including male domination of boardrooms

Programme to end trafficking of women in the sex industry

Work on tackling the rise in teenage pregnancies

Investment in public health, with better cancer care and efforts to reduce STDs

Family-friendly policies

Support for the hospice movement

Help for women and Aids orphans in developing countries

Action against child poverty

Extra funding for special schools and support for the disabled

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