Beyond the Suffragettes: Why Young Women Need More Reasons to Vote

Thursday 1 June 2017

Beyond the Suffragettes: Why Young Women Need More Reasons to Vote

Carole4In today’s Times, David Aaronovitch writes a powerful piece, “The under-30s are the real left behinds”.  This was my conclusion when, over four years ago, I became Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust.

Young men and young women are being left behind but it is undoubtedly young women for whom the impact of being marginalised and struggling in their youth has greater long-term impact on their lives and on their children’s lives.

Last week I watched young women at a hustings event where representatives from all the major parties spoke about issues affecting women.  And, unlike David Aaronovitch who focused on Theresa May, they felt alienated, excluded and misunderstood by most of the panel. 

One young woman said to me after the event that she was fed up with hearing that she should vote because women in previous generations had died for her right to vote.  I used to say this myself but I have stopped doing so and have developed a profound sympathy for this view.

First, let’s consider whether we tell young men the same thing?  Probably not. Telling young women to vote because their great grandmothers chained themselves to the railings is not a sufficient argument.  Young women need to feel it is worthwhile voting now!  They need to feel that policies will be put in place that will give them back hope for the future. That means policies like those Young Women’s Trust is calling for in our manifesto, which young women have told us they need: investment in jobs and skills for young women, better support at job centres to help them find work and making work an affordable option for people with caring responsibilities. Giving young women something to vote for would be a start.

Another young woman said that she finds it really difficult to believe that any of the parties are genuinely interested in making a difference for young people.  If politicians truly valued the efforts and contributions of young people, surely there would not be one minimum wage for over-25s and another for those aged 16 to 24. Surely they would be committed to ensuring that young mums, both in work and out, did not have to resort to using food banks. Surely they too would find a way for all young people to work towards becoming financially independent.

When a third young woman said she found the style of debate and argument in politics aggressive and alienating, she was effectively told she would need to become more resilient and confident. This is not listening. This is blaming and criticising. Instead, politicians should be reaching out to young people and engaging on their terms.

If parties want young people, and particularly young women to vote they need to demonstrate that they are really listening and will commit to making a difference.