How the UK's Incoming Female Prime Minister Voted on Women's Issues

Conservative MP Theresa May is set to become the UK's second female Prime Minister—but does she really have women's best interests in mind? We looked back over her voting record to find out.

by Linda Yang
Jul 11 2016, 7:03pm

Photo via Wikipedia

After a summer of chaos, there is finally something certain in British politics: there's going to be a female Prime Minister. Theresa May, the current British Home Secretary, is the final candidate standing in the Conservative Party's leadership race after her last remaining opponent, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the race Monday following controversy about comments she had made about motherhood and leadership.

While May is not officially confirmed as the next Prime Minister, Britain's parliamentary system is set up so that the leader of the ruling party automatically becomes head of the country. With news of Leadsom dropping out of the race and current Prime Minister David Cameron resigning this Wednesday after his failed attempt to keep the UK in the European Union, it's all but assured that May is going to be the UK's second female Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher.

Read more: How the Brexit Decision Will Affect Women

The easy Margaret Thatcher comparisons are already rolling in, with CNN's British Correspondent Robin Oakley describing May as "the nearest thing you could find in British politics today to Margaret Thatcher." Similarities aside, May has a tough road ahead of her with upcoming post-Brexit fallout negotiations with the European Union.

The Fawcett Society, the United Kingdom's largest membership organization for women's rights, recently published an open letter to the candidate asking for a commitment to a "progressive agenda," focused on maternity rights, part-time worker's rights, and the gender pay gap. In light of this, Broadly investigates May's voting record to see how she stacks up.

In the past, May has advocated to shorten the timeframe in which women can legally get abortions. In 2012, following two other Conservative cabinet member's calls for reducing the time limit, May said, "I think there is scope for some reduction," later clarifying that she believed the limit should be cut from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.

"May does not have a pro-choice voting record. She voted for the abortion time limit to be reduced to 20 weeks in 2008, despite clear evidence that women in the most challenging situations would suffer as a result and last year supported anti-abortion MPs in a bid to criminalize women seeking abortion on the grounds of fetal sex," said Abigail Fitzgibbon, the head of advocacy and campaigns for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, over email.

The Pay Gap:
May has had a long history of advocating for narrowing the gender pay gay. In 2008, May advocated for a culture change to close the pay gap in the Guardian. "The gender pay gap is not closing," she wrote. "Addressing this isn't about empowering the resentful—it's about having the good sense to create a fairer working life for everyone."

May also recently pledged to narrow the gap if she became Prime Minister, stating on Monday that she would create initiatives to make more well-paid jobs, grow the economy in all sectors, and negotiate the best possible terms for the United Kingdom after leaving the European Union.

Part-Time Worker's Rights:
May has spoken about the need of women part-time workers to get full-time jobs. "One way in which I'm particularly keen that our economy becomes fairer is in the opportunities available to women," May said in 2011.

May was "quietly supportive" of the Remain campaign, according to the Independent. By supporting Remain, she campaigned to keep the UK in the European Union. The European Union and its directives have been responsible for ensuring that part-time workers in the EU had the right to equal pay of full time workers.

Violence Against Women:
While under May's leadership in 2015, the Home Office introduced a coercive control law that would impose a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine for domestic violence. The law was the first of its kind to recognize the complexity of abuse patterns that allow for violence within the home.

However, the coercive control law only applies to British nationals. May has been silent or defiant in the past in regards to the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Center in the UK, where many women seeking asylum are held in isolation and without trial for indeterminate lengths of time. May has been accused of allowing "state-sanctioned abuse of women" after an investigation discovered that guards at the center ignored women's self-harm. Women at Yarl's Wood are often held under the constant threat of deportation, and May extended the contract to run the detainment center despite allegations of abuse, sexual exploitation, rape, and self-harm.

Gay Rights:
May voted in 1998 against equalizing the age of consent for gay sex. Later, May voted against repealing Section 28, which banned the "promotion" of homosexuality by governments and schools. May also voted twice against legalizing adoptions by gay couples in the early 2000s.

Under her rule, the Home Office has put into place policies that force LGBT asylum seekers to "prove" their sexuality. Some have alleged that intimate photos and videos of same-sex sexuality had to be provided. While being denied asylum, one applicant was reportedly told by the Home Office that she could not be a lesbian because she had children.

Maternity Rights:
While May personally holds Euroskeptic beliefs, she did vote to remain in the European Union. The European Union's policies have been integral to pregnant worker's rights, with a 1992 directive that led to improved health and safety for expectant and new mothers.

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