The subject of women’s rights has proven a tricky one for Dominic Raab during the Conservative party leadership contest so far.
The former Brexit secretary is one of the frontrunners from the Leave wing of the Tory party, but his campaign has been on the back foot over the last two weeks following intense scrutiny in Westminster over his record on women — interest which stems from past comments he has made about gender equality.
In interviews with the BBC and ITV, Raab has been asked about his much-publicised 2011 claim that “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots”. Raab insisted that while he does not describe himself as a feminist, he believes in equality between men and women.
But his criticism of feminists provoked attacks from rivals for the Tory crown, eight of whom immediately declared themselves feminists in a pointed rebuke to Raab.
On Wednesday evening he attracted further controversy while defending his record on women at a hustings hosted by the One Nation group of Tory MPs, by saying that he helps “pick up the slack at home”.
BuzzFeed News has unearthed a series of other controversial statements about women’s rights made by Raab over the last decade.
The prime ministerial candidate has said that gender pay audits should be scrapped, claimed it is men who get a “raw deal”, said that women now have an “unfair advantage” in the workplace, and argued that the Government Equalities Office, which is responsible for policies relating to women, should be abolished.
We asked whether he still agreed with each of those positions or had changed his mind, and why.
Raab, who could be PM within weeks if he wins the support of Tory MPs and members, provided BuzzFeed News with a detailed response to each question. He vowed he would put what he called “true gender equality” at the “heart” of his agenda if he made it to Downing Street.
On Saturday morning, after BuzzFeed News had approached him with the questions, and before this story was published, Raab announced that one of his first acts as PM would be to establish a task force to improve maternity care.
Raab said he would make improving the care that new and expecting parents get one of his “defining missions” as PM.
But what does he really believe about women’s rights? Is the criticism fair? Does he stand by his previous remarks, or have his views evolved throughout his political career?
Gender pay audits “should be shelved”
In 2010, Raab wrote an article for the Sunday Times in which he outlined his opposition to gender pay audits.
“The government should shelve gender pay audits,” he wrote. “The gap between male and female pay has halved since 1970, and rising numbers of better-educated young women are landing top jobs. Sure, there is a time lag, but corporate gender quotas won’t help.”
“What does the tick-box ethnic-gender-social utopia look like?” Raab asked. “At best it is a recipe for confusion; at worst it is bitterly divisive.”
BuzzFeed News asked Raab if he still believed the government should scrap gender pay audits. He did not say he had changed his view.
“Tackling discrimination in our society is one of the toughest challenges we face. As a passionate believer in meritocracy, I am proud of the Conservative record of reducing the gender pay gap to its lowest level on record, and being the only party to have had two female Prime Ministers,” he said in a statement.
White male middle-class MPs are the victims of “racism and classism”
In the same Sunday Times article, Raab suggested that as a white, middle-aged male MP he was the victim of racism and classism from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
“I was more than just personally irked when the EHRC head said there were too many ‘white, middle-class lawyers’ in Parliament,” he said. “That statement was explicitly both racist and classist. Yet nobody blinked.”
BuzzFeed News asked Raab if he stood by his comments that white middle-class men were victims of racism and classism by the EHRC. He said that there were “double standards” when it came to the debate on equality.
“I believe that all discrimination is wrong, and equally wrong whether made on the grounds of gender, background or profession. Equality is too precious a value for us to put up with double standards, and it has to apply fairly across the board. I do think we should call hypocrisy out in political debate and political life,” he said.
“The Government Equalities Office should be abolished”
In 2012, Raab wrote a report for the Thatcherite think thank the Centre for Policy Studies titled “Unleashing the British Underdog”, in which he said the Government Equalities Office should be “abolished”.
He said: “The Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have become state-funded lobbying groups for policies that promote positive discrimination, social quotas and other socially-engineered egalitarian outcomes. The Government Equalities Office serves little purpose. It should be abolished.”
The Government Equalities Office leads Whitehall’s work on women, sexual orientation, and transgender equality, and is responsible for equalities legislation.
BuzzFeed News asked Raab if he still thought the Government Equalities Office should be abolished. He did not answer the question, but issued a statement defending his record on women’s rights.
“I believe people should be judged by their actions as well as their words. I’ve got a track record in my working career of standing up for women's rights.
“As a trainee lawyer I took a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg defending women’s rights and as a war crimes international lawyer I worked to bring people to justice for the very worst crimes against women on the battlefield,” he said.
Women enjoy an “unfair advantage” in the workplace
In 2013, Raab wrote another article for the Sunday Times in which he opposed quotas to increase the number of women directors on boards and argued that women now have an “unfair advantage” in the workplace.
Describing the quotas as “morally wrong”, Raab claimed that “younger men suffer as a result of previous male domination for which they bear no responsibility. Women now enjoying equal opportunity gain an unfair advantage because of historic discrimination that did not affect them.”
He asked why there was no focus on what he called “female domination at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission”.
And he wrote: “Women earn more than men in their twenties, but take a hit in their forties, suggesting decision-making about family life, more than institutional sexism, influences career trajectory.”
Feminists are “obnoxious bigots”
The 2013 article echoed comments made by Raab in 2011 in which he said “men are getting a raw deal” and claimed “some of the most flagrant discrimination” is against men.
Labelling feminists “obnoxious bigots”, Raab said: “While we have some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world, we are blind to some of the most flagrant discrimination — against men.
“From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal. Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women. That won’t be fixed for another seven years.”
He added that “young boys are educationally disadvantaged compared to girls, and divorced or separated fathers are systematically ignored by the courts.”
BuzzFeed News asked Raab if he still believed it was men who get the raw deal, and if he still held these views. Again, he did not directly address the comments or say he has changed his opinion at all, but he insisted he would put what he called “true gender equality” at the top of his agenda in Number 10.
“I’m putting achieving true gender equality at the heart of my vision for a fairer society, with proposals to better protect women from redundancy during and after their pregnancy, and give Dads a day-one right to two-weeks paid paternity leave,” he said.
Raab’s views on feminism and women’s rights have been defended by Maria Miller, who is the chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee and a supporter of his candidacy.
“I don’t criticise anyone who chooses not to identify themselves as a feminist — it’s become easy to hide behind this very general term to imply support for women when most people don’t know the meaning behind it. I look for actions not warm words,” she told BuzzFeed News.
“Dom Raab has already set out how he would make the issues that matter to women and help reduce women’s inequality his priority: maternity discrimination and shared parental leave in particular.
“All of the other Leadership candidates need to follow Dom’s lead and be clearer about how they will tackle inequality particularly to create a more equal country for everyone. This has to be a bread and butter issue in this leadership campaign for every candidate,” she said.
The title of Raab’s report for the Centre for Policy Studies was misstated in a previous version of this post.
Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Wickham at email@example.com.
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