Boris Johnson is our new Prime Minister, so let’s find out where he stands on abortion rights, tampon tax and equal pay…
By Becky Burgum
‘Voting Tory will give your wife bigger breasts,’ – Boris Johnson, during the 2005 Conservative party leadership race.
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Boris Johnson has a long history of making foolish and offensive comments towards women (and the rest), which makes it of no surprise that the latest results from Deltapoll show a significantly lower number of women than men thought Johnson as PM would be a good thing (25% v 43%).

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves as he enters 10 Downing Street

We may not have thought it was remotely a good idea, but do women have a genuine cause for concern?
‘Boris Johnson poses a serious threat to women’s rights,’ says Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party.
‘The fact that his (highly undemocratic) election to leader has led to the biggest spike in membership of the Women’s Equality Party all year shows that women across the country understand this, and we will not sit quietly.’
In Wednesday’s victory speech, as Johnson was welcomed into Number 10 (and as citizens took to the streets in protest), he promised he would ‘deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn’, going on to outline pledges including ensuring full-fibre broadband was available across the UK.
While his Brexit chat was plentiful, there has been no mention of women so far.

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Protesters Demonstrate Against Boris Johnson’s Appointment As UK’s New Prime Minister

Sure, Johnson emphatically declares he’s ‘absolutely’ a feminist – but is he all chat? In the words of Labour MP Jess Philips: ‘If Boris Johnson is a feminist, then I went to Eton.’
His pledge to increase the number of women and minorities in cabinet positions, with a 50% target for Conservative candidates across all levels of the party, may seems like a step in the right direction, but Reid is not convinced either.
‘I am alarmed by his cabinet appointments,’ says the leader of the UK’s first and only feminist political party.

‘During his leadership campaign, he made token gestures, including a pledge to appoint more women to the cabinet than ever before. But women still make up less than a third of his cabinet and occupy only one of the top four jobs.
Given that those women have been appointed alongside an avowed anti-feminist (Dominic Raab) and along with politicians who have repeatedly voted for sexist austerity policies, this shallow commitment to basic representation rings hollow.’
And as for his attempt at representing more minorities?
‘The appointment of Priti Patel and Sajid Javid is another poor attempt at showing ethnic diversity and a faux allegiance with minority communities in the UK’ says Muslim Sisterhood, a collective supporting Muslim womanhood in London.

‘These people do not represent or care for our communities or values. We are in a country where our leader opposes and speaks against our very existence and freedom to live how we wish to.’
The advancement of women is going to take a lot more than a slightly more representative cabinet and Boris’ past silence on women’s issues is deafening.
We can’t predict Boris’ future policies, but what we can do is look back at his voting record as the former foreign secretary and ex-London mayor. From the gender pay-gap to abortion rights, here’s everything you need to know:

Boris Johnson on abortion

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Abortion posters

While he’s never spoken against giving women autonomy over our own bodies, he’s actually never bothered to vote on abortion legislation at all.
Including those relating to Northern Ireland (where abortion is illegal in all circumstances other than when a woman’s life is at risk) and a vote on introducing independent abortion counselling.
By default, he supports maintaining the status quo, which in this case is denying fundamental reproductive healthcare and basic body autonomy for citizens of Northern Ireland.
‘Quite often if a politician doesn’t want people to know their opinion on something they will abstain or not turn up to the vote’, says journalist Vicky Spratt, whose most recent documentary explored abortion rights in Ireland.

‘Maybe he doesn’t care about abortion, but you could also look at his private life – where there have been stories about affairs and abortions – and interpret that he felt having his views on record may contradict his behaviour and his personal life.’
(In 2004, it was reported that his alleged mistress, Petronella Wyatt, had two abortions with the then-married Henley MP, one of which he reportedly paid for.)
As reproductive freedoms are being reversed in the US, Johnson will need to make a clear stance that he is protecting our rights.

Boris Johnson on violence against women

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Nimko Ali and Carrie Symonds leaving Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party leadership campaign launch

One in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Violence against women of all kinds (from domestic violence to sexual harassment, rape and FGM) is on the rise in the UK, with figures hugely underestimated, but is this a priority for Boris?

Boris’ continued support of activist Nimko Ali and her campaign to end FGM proves he is progressive in some senses (although slight coincidence that Nimko is the BFF of girlfriend Carrie Symonds?), yet past actions send mixed messages.
In 2016, he announced the £5 million Pan-London Domestic Violence Service, supporting victims’ recovery and advice on how to tackle the criminal justice system.
Yet, he also cut five positions and £90,000 in funding from the London Domestic Violence Strategy Team. Go figure.

Boris Johnson on race and faith

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Muslim women in headscarves

In 2002, Boris Johnson referred to the people of Africa as ‘piccaninnies’, having ‘watermelon smiles’, and has described children of Uganda as ‘AIDS-ridden choristers’.
Last August, one of his Telegraph columns compared veiled Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’.
A ‘direct link’ was found between Johnson’s comments and a rise in violence targeting women wearing a niqab, which covers the face and hair apart from the eyes, according to a hate crime watchdog.

‘Racially-motivated hate crimes spiked after Brexit, and the police are prepared for them to spike again when we do leave,’ says Micha Frazer-Carroll, writer of gal-dem’s ‘6 Things You Can Do To Oppose Boris’.
”Visibly Muslim’ women, usually referring to women who wear the hijab, niqab or burqa, are significantly more likely to be the victims of hate crimes — this is an explicit issue of racism and misogyny. Islamophobia is already an issue within the Tory party, is perpetuated by far-right figureheads like Tommy Robinson, and is rife in the mainstream press. Johnson’s comments contribute to this climate and dehumanise Muslim women.’

‘It’s actually comical that he has made statements about Muslim women in the past when he himself has Muslim ancestry (his great grandfather was a Muslim, Turkish journalist and politician),’ says Sunayah Arshad, associate editor of AZEEMA, a magazine, platform and community exploring, challenging and confronting issues surrounding representation and diversity.
‘The situation just re-iterates how important it is for communities like ours to continue creating a space for ourselves and continue educating others.’
Boris Johnson on tampon tax
Tampons and other sanitary products are still classed as a ‘luxury’ and ‘non-essential’ item in the UK (tell that to our ever diminishing knicker drawers) and although the rate has been reduced (the VAT we pay is now 5% as opposed to 20%), why are we paying at all?
Jaffacakes, bike helmets, postage stamps, edible cake decorations and herbal tea are just a few items we aren’t taxed on.
Johnson was one of the 305 MPs who voted against cutting the tampon tax in 2015, causing the Financial Bill amendment to be rejected.
‘This vote to abolish tampon tax should have been a no brainer, and it was for many male Tory politicians.’ says Gabby Edlin, founder of period poverty charity, Bloody Good Period.

‘For Boris to oppose the amendment just shows us quite how little he cares about women and people who menstruate. It was simply a human error that the tax was ever made on these products in the first place.’
EU policy has been the excuse over the tax necessity for the for a while, so when/if the UK leaves the EU in October, perhaps we can finally get the result falsely promised to us by David Cameron in 2016.

Boris Johnson on the gender pay gap

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Figurines representing the pay gap

Right now, the pay gap stands at 9.6%, with the latest reports showing hardly any change since 2018.
In the last year, across 45% of the UK’s biggest firms, the discrepancy in pay actually increased in favour of men, with an overall 78% of companies found to have a pay gap in favour of men.
Last month, Johnson promised to call out and ‘do something about’ barriers in ‘pay, discrimination against women on maternity leave, or hidden inequalities of the health’ system in response to a letter from the Conservative Women in Parliament Group (CWIPG).
Yet, he has voted against requiring an annual report on the gender pay gap, actually making recommendations to close it (2015), didn’t bother turning up to vote on a gender equality strategy (2016) and against an assessment of the impact of government policies on women (2011).
During Mayor’s Question Time in 2016 was the only time Johnson actually addressed the gender pay gap, blaming immigrants for a quarter of women in London not being paid the living wage.
He said it was down to ‘unrestricted access to the market of labourers who are willing to work for very low wages’.

Boris Johnson on the LGBT+ community

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Boris Johnson leading the 2008 Gay Pride march through London

In his columns, Johnson has referred to gay people as ‘tank-topped bum boys’ and attacked ‘Labour’s appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools’, while effectively comparing gay marriage to bestiality in his 2001 book, Friends, Voters, Countrymen:
‘If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.’
In fairness, he has on several occasions rebelled against his own party to back LGBT+ measures, voting to abolish Section 28 (the homophobic law banning local authorities and schools from ‘promoting’ homosexuality) in 2003.
Though his reasoning is less than supportive of the LGBT+ community:
‘I object to schools being told what to do by the government. That is why I voted against my party line and for the repeal of Section 28, in defiance of the Conservative Party line.’

Last year, he defended homophobic comments, such as ‘hard-core dyke’, from longtime pal and Spectator columnist Toby Young, while also signing off law in Bermuda (a British Overseas Territory) as foreign secretary, banning same-sex marriage.
A court later found the law to be in breach of human rights.
Boris has remained absent on key votes surrounding gay rights and same-sex marriages – despite being Mayor when gay marriage was legalised and leading numerous London Pride Parades.
‘More people in the UK are identifying as queer than ever before, we need a Prime Minister that we relate to, not someone who has previously referred to gay people as ‘tank-topped bumboys’,’ says Tori West, founder of BRICKS magazine.
‘We laugh at Trump, but now we have our very own — we need a socialist revolution, a general election and a Prime Minister that not only respects the marginalised communities of this kingdom but protects them.’

Boris Johnson on social care

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
oris Johnson Arrives In Downing Street To Take The Office Of Prime Minister

During his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris has promised to put education and schools at the top of his domestic agenda, and fix the crisis in social care ‘once and for all’.
How? He’s not got that far yet.
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party is up for giving some advice though:

As mayor of London, he announced £8m in funding to encourage schools to allow more childcare.

Boris Johnson’s most sexist remarks

What Do Boris Johnson Voting History And Past Comments Mean For Women
Boris Johnson talks at the final hustings of the Conservative leadership campaign at ExCeL London on July 17, 2019

Now, sadly, this list is extensive.
In 1996, he wrote an article reviewing the quality of the ‘hot totty’ in attendance at the Labour Party conference, writing:
‘The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the ‘Tottymeter’ reading is higher than any Labour Party conference in living memory.’
According to Telegraph colleagues, he kept a calendar featuring naked women on his desk, despite complaints from female colleagues.
But back then was different time wasn’t it? There was a different etiquette! You can’t compare actions from as far back as the 90s, can you? Ah… here are some of his other less than savoury quotes:

  • July 2013: Women go to university ‘to find men to marry’

  • November 2007: Hilary Clinton is like a ‘sadistic nurse in a mental hospital’

  • December 2005: ‘Pat her on the bottom and send her on her way’

  • April 2005: ‘Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts’

All in all, this makes for some concerning reading and has left thousands of British women worried since his appointment as Prime Minister.

Maybe he’ll prove us wrong, who knows, and this track record might be wiped out due to his progressive policies. But, in the meantime, with just his voting record and past comments to go on, we’re not brimming with hope.

As Reid summarises: ‘Boris Johnson claims to be a feminist, but his silence on women’s rights, his past voting record and his political allegiances demonstrate that that is simply not true.

‘As an MP he voted against numerous policies aimed at tackling gender inequality, inaccurately and irresponsibly blamed the gender pay gap on immigration, voted against scrapping the tampon tax and has deliberately abstained from every single vote on abortion rights.

‘This is not the record of a feminist, and it shows a wilful disregard of women’s rights and interests.’

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