Gender and International Trade

Dear Friends,

Here is another speech from Labour’s online party conference that I wanted to share with you all. This was made as part of Labour’s ‘Women Connected’ event, in which I spoke about Gender and International Trade. In my speech, I discussed the UK’s responsibility to put gender equality – among other issues – at the heart of trade policy, and how a Labour government would uphold a commitment to gender equality and justice both within and beyond our borders. You can watch a short clip here, and read the full speech below. As ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Best wishes,


Friends, it’s wonderful to be joining you today. We all wish it was in different circumstances, we all wish we were together in Liverpool, but we’re together in spirit and united in our mission, and that’s what matters most of all.

Speaking to you briefly today about the issues of Gender and International Trade, I think I must start on one issue on which we are all definitely united: we do not want our country being represented around the world by Tony Abbott.

Tony Abbott, a man who said women didn’t have the right temperament to take on leadership roles.

A man who said his greatest achievement for women was cutting energy taxes because they’re the ones doing the ironing.

A man who stood next to a female candidate for office and – when asked what her strengths were – said that she was local and that she had sex appeal, as if she was just a face on Tinder.

And a man who heard a 67-year old woman over the radio describe her chronic health and money problems, and the fact that she was forced to work on an adult sex line just to make ends meet, and whose reaction wasn’t to sympathise or imagine his Mum or Gran in that situation, but instead smirked and winked at the other man in the studio.

And you know, when one of my friends and heroes Julia Gillard, tore Tony Abbott to pieces over his misogyny in the Australian Parliament, one of Abbott’s own party colleagues, Senator Sue Boyce, tried her best to defend him. “He’s not a misogynist”, she said, “That is totally unfair, I know him really well – and he’s just a sexist.”

But all of us know different.

We’ve all experienced it in our own lives. And we know when a man repeatedly says and does things like that, they aren’t gaffes, they aren’t mistakes, they go to the heart of how he sees women and their place in the world. It is the mindset of a misogynist.

Which is why for me, the real scandal of his appointment was when Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for Trade, but also the Minister for Women and Equalities, was asked to justify the comments Tony Abbott had made, not just against women but against LGBT people and minorities.

And her response – her shameful response – was this: “I am”, she said, “The Minister for Women and Equalities in Britain”. So it doesn’t matter what Tony Abbott has said to women, same-sex couples, and minorities in Australia, because that is none of her business.

And again, that was not a gaffe, it was not a mistake. It goes to the heart of how this government thinks about the world and certainly how they think about trade.

Because here is the issue.

We haven’t been in charge of our trade policy in Britain for almost half a century. And even for those of us who opposed Brexit, there is something historic and significant about the opportunity to take an entirely fresh look at how we approach trade as a country.

An opportunity to take issues that were not the priority they should have been back in 1973. Issues like Gender Equality, Human Rights, Labour Laws, and Climate Change, and put those issues at the heart of our trade policy and the deals we make around the world.

It’s an opportunity to say to countries, we’ll do a trade deal with you, but we want you to commit to progress on equal pay for equal work, on equal access to education and healthcare and on women’s reproductive rights.

But Liz Truss isn’t interested in any of that.

Of the 19 Trade Deals the Tories have signed since Brexit, not a single one makes a new commitment on the issue of Gender Equality.

And it’s worse than that: The Trade Deal Liz Truss agreed with Kosovo in December last year actually took out the Clauses in the equivalent EU agreement that related to “Equal opportunities for women” and improving “Women’s working conditions”.

Again, not a gaffe, not a mistake but a deliberate, conscious decision from a government which only cares about the financial implications of trade not about the lives that it could help.

That’s why we saw representatives of the terrible regime in Turkmenistan invited to London for a summit in 2018 on the opportunities for UK business, ten days after that regime banned women from driving.

That’s why we saw the red carpet rolled out later that year for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, with Boris Johnson praising him as a reformer, because he was allowing Saudi women to drive cars, but not mentioning that the Saudi women who had campaigned for those rights, had been arrested, imprisoned and threatened with execution.

And that is why, of course we continue to see this Tory government bending over backwards to appease the Crown Prince of Sexual Abuse, Donald J Trump, even as he steps up his assault on the rights of women to control their own bodies, both in America and around the world.

But under a Labour government, it can and it will be different. We will have a leader in Keir and strong female Ministers like Angie, Marsha, Lisa and Annaliese.

They will never think that their responsibilities to promote equality and justice stop at our own borders, and will always seek to use every lever we have, including the deals we make on international trade, to improve the lives of women both here in Britain, and all around the world.

And if I can leave you with one final thought which perhaps sums this up, and certainly shows why it matters.

If I asked you all which country has been stuck at the bottom of the Global Rankings for Gender Equality going back 14 years, I don’t know how many of you would know.

That country is Yemen. And now in the sixth year of war, Gender Inequality in Yemen is not just measured – as it’s historically been – by a lack of opportunity, by restrictions on freedom, and by grinding poverty.

It is measured now in the routine nature of sexual violence, in the emaciated bodies of little girls dying of malnutrition, and in the thousands more sold off as child brides by families desperate to feed their sons.

A Labour government could not fix all those problems, but we can promise one thing. A Labour government would never turn our face away, let alone keep selling the arms that Saudi Arabia is using to fuel that dreadful war.

But that is all we get from the Tories on Yemen. That is all we get from Liz Truss on trade. That is all we can expect from the current Minister for Women. And my friends, with your support, and with all our combined effort, it is time for that to end.

Thank you.

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