By New Worker correspondent
AROUND a thousand angry women, along with friends and supporters, last Saturday marched from Temple to Whitehall to demand that the Con-Dem Coalition stop making cuts that take away women’s chances of an equal life.
The march, organised by the Fawcett Society, was a protest at the way the cuts are turning back the clock on women’s rights and freedoms.
Many marchers wore 1950s style clothing – from French Haute Couture to overalls, pinnies, hairnets and head scarves with rubber gloves, to make the point that this was an age they did not want to go back to.
In what it describes as its first nationwide "call to arms" in nearly a century-and-a-half of activism for women’s equality, the Fawcett Society urged people to turn out to deliver a message to David Cameron that his austerity measures threaten to "turn back time" on women's rights.
Similar rallies were held in other cities, including Coventry, Bristol and Manchester, and finished with tea parties.
In Oxford, a 1950s-themed "flash mob" took place with some marchers coming in handcuffs the most to chain themselves symbolically "to the kitchen sink".
The Fawcett Society has previously shied away from militant feminism in favour of measured, persistent campaigning.
But last week the number of women out of work reached 1.09 million, the highest in 23 years and Fawcett's acting chief executive, Anna Bird, said there was no time to lose.
"We think we are very much at a watershed moment for women's rights in the UK," she said. "We think that the impact of austerity has brought us to a tipping point where, while we have got used to steady progress towards greater equality, we're now seeing a risk of slipping backwards. We cannot afford to let that happen."
Women will generally be harder hit by cuts to benefits and public services such as SureStart children's centres, and will be more likely to take on roles, like caring for the long-term sick and elderly, which will plug the gaps once such state services have been withdrawn.
But the Fawcett Society believes the most serious damage is being done in the jib market, as 65 per cent of the public sector workforce, female employees will be disproportionately affected by job cuts.
The TUC last week released a "tool kit" guide to raising awareness about the impact of the cuts on women; it estimated that 325,000 of the 500,000 people who will lose their jobs as a result of public sector cuts will be women.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "Is it any wonder that the coalition are losing the support of women voters? It is a triple whammy for women who are being hit hard by unemployment, the rising cost of living as well as cuts to benefits and services to young people."
Many of the marchers had experienced first hand the impact of the cuts. Maggie Cowan, 59, from Walthamstow in north-east London, is one of those: after working in the careers service for 22 years, she was made redundant in July as an indirect result of local authority cuts to Connexions advice centres. Because of the closures, the organisation that employed her decided to close its head office. Of about a dozen of her colleagues, only one was male.
Since September, she has had a part-time job on a temporary contract working with young people to try to keep them in education. But the summer was hard.
"I was anxious,” she said. “Looking for work is difficult – because of my age and I accept I may not look like the best prospect," she joked. "I applied for lots and lots of jobs … I just seemed to be filling in application forms and sending off CVs left, right and centre."
As her contract is due to end in the spring, Cowan, the breadwinner in her family, admits she is insecure. "I have to be really careful about how much money I spend because come next March I don't know what I'll be doing," she said. "There is pressure. The only other time in my life I haven't worked is when I stopped to have my children."
Fawcett has outlined policies it wants the Government to take, including the ring-fencing of funding for SureStart children's centres and pressure on local authorities not to cut services concerned with combating violence against women.