Liz Truss’s new government has been accused of “erasing women from the equalities agenda” after the word ‘women’ was removed from a ministerial role – and the job given to a man.
Nadhim Zahawi, Chancellor from July until September, was appointed Equalities Minister on Tuesday as part of the new prime minister’s revamped cabinet.
The role was previously known as the Women and Equalities Minister, but the word has been quietly dropped from the title, leading to fears of a ‘downgrade’ in importance.
Kate Osborne, a Labour MP who sits on the Women and Equalities Committee, said: “At present, Nadhim Zahawi is the head of the equalities ministry, even if they appoint a women’s minister, they will be more junior than him.
“They have restructured the government department and at best downgraded the importance of women’s equalities.”
The MP for Jarrow chaired Wednesday’s session of the Women and Equalities Select Committee – which focuses on attitudes toward women and girls in educational settings.
“It may be the last committee with this name as the new prime minister has appointed a Minister for Equalities – dropping women from the portfolio,” she said.
“Women still face huge issues with sexism and misogyny – not just today’s discussion on attitudes to women and girls, but the gender pay gap, gender health inequalities, maternity pay, menopause at work, violence against women, a huge drop in prosecutions for domestic abuse and many more inequalities that need to be addressed.”
She stated “women’s rights and equalities must remain at the forefront of the work we do” – adding: “We cannot allow this government to erase women from the equalities agenda.”
The name of the role has changed six times since it was introduced by Tony Blair in 1997.
It was initially Minister for Women and then Minister for Women and Equality in 2007, followed by Minister for Women and Equalities in 2010.
In April 2014 it was divided into two roles Minister for Women, with Nicky Morgan in the post, and a second role of Minister for Equalities, filled by Sajid Javid.
Just three months later it was merged back into one role, Minister for Women and Equalities, and stayed with that title until now.
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, condemned the appointment of Mr Zahawi as she warned the “decision to remove women from the equalities brief is a clear indication of how Liz Truss will prioritise women – which is not at all.”
She said: “Although I firmly believe that women’s equality is something that must be at the core of all government work – not just siloed in a portfolio role – the fact remains that there is now no minister responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of women across every aspect of government, and that is very troubling.”
Ms Mandu warned the cost of living crisis is “gendered” as she hit out at “staggering childcare costs, rising rates of violence against women and increasing poverty, which disproportionately impacts women” but argued “the government has completely failed to provide gendered solutions.”
“Women simply aren’t a priority, and I urge the new prime minister to prove me wrong,” she added.
Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading gender equality charity, said: “Following the announcement of Truss’s new cabinet, it’s concerning that she’s appointed a Minister for Equalities instead of the previous role of Minister for Women and Equalities.
“We have a long way to go before this government really addresses deep-seated gender inequalities that harm and hold back women. Now not is not the time to be de-prioritising our needs.”
Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, the leading national umbrella organisation for the women’s sector in the UK, said the new appointment “signals to women that our rights and protection are not a priority and given we are over half the population, this is dismal and shocking.”
“Because they have removed the title of women in the role and put a man suggests very strongly women’s needs are not going to be considered,” Ms Hayes said. “Women are always an afterthought for the Tories. Erasing the role for women in cabinet confirms it.”
It comes after The Independent recently reported women have been left “brutally exposed” to the cost of living crisis as they were disproportionately affected by surging poverty levels in the last decade.
Researchers said there are now more than 7.5 million women living in relative poverty up and down the UK – almost a quarter of all women living in the country.
The prime minister’s spokesperson indicated that there were no plans to appoint a separate minister for women, and that Mr Zahawi would retain responsibility for that area of policy.
Asked if there would be a minister for women, the spokesperson said: “The equalities brief hasn’t changed. You have heard the prime minister on the campaign trail talking about her focus on women’s rights and her desire to create a national domestic abuse register.
“The title has been changed slightly. I believe that it is the actions which the govnerment takes on which it will be judged, rather than the job titles of individuals. The policy areas for which they have responsibility haven’t changed.”