The politics of gender equality in Britain has undoubtedly seen vast improvements since the first law was passed in 1918 which allowed some, but not all, women the right to vote. However, our society still doesn’t offer the same opportunities for women as are available to men. We didn’t realise quite what was missing from British politics until it came suddenly in the form of a party founded on a drive for gender equality.
The Women’s Equality Party (WEP) opened membership on the 3rd of July 2015. Following an abundance of support over the summer, the party completed their first momentous policy launch earlier this October. Impact speaks to author, journalist and co-founder, of the WEP, Catherine Mayer.
What inspired you to found the WEP, was it simply that you felt disillusioned with the lack of female representation in politics?
Catherine Mayer: It’s not so much that I was disillusioned; rather that so many people seemed to be thoroughly disenchanted with the existing political parties. I remember having a conversation with Sandi Toksvig, in February of this year, about the worryingly high number of people, and especially women, who felt too alienated to vote. Sandi and I are friends and we’re also both on the founding committee of WOW, the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre. I may have been thinking about that conversation with Sandi at a WOW event a couple of weeks later, on March 2, when listening to three female MPs making promises about what their parties would do to advance gender equality. One member of the audience after another stood up to express scepticism not just that these promises would ever be delivered, but about whether there was any value in voting. So I got hold of the microphone and said that maybe a new party was needed, a women’s equality party, and that if anybody wanted to discuss the idea I’d be in the bar.
“I got hold of the microphone and said that maybe a new party was needed, a women’s equality party”
I wasn’t suggesting that I would found such a party, but quite a few people came to the bar and quite a few more contacted me on social media. The next day I rang Sandi who told me she was working on the closing event for the WOW festival and planned to propose a gender equality party called the Rescue Party. It seemed we both felt that some kind of rescue mission was in order, to rekindle faith in the political process. We were also both convinced that opening up the political system to greater diversity was a way to achieve this. And we were also appalled that we found ourselves in 2015 in a world in which women are at best second class citizens and we knew a lot of people felt the same way. So we decided to work together.
What are the major challenges you anticipate facing as a founder of this party?
CM: How long have you got? Seriously, the political system in the UK was designed to achieve stability but instead maintains business as usual, a status quo that rewards machine politics and money. It’s ridiculously expensive to campaign and run candidates. Just to stand for London mayor, for example, requires a £10,000 deposit and another mandatory £10,000 for leaflets and so forth. No wonder so many of our elected representatives come from wealthy backgrounds or are funded by big parties and organisations. The Westminster elections are run on a first-past-the-post system that in May gave just one seat apiece to UKIP and the Greens in return for their respective 4.3 million and 1.1 million votes.
“Unlocking the potential of women in the workplace would enable the economy to grow 10% by 2030”
So to make the change we want to see, we have to make tons of noise and raise shedloads of money and sign up oceans of members and supporters to win elections and make the other parties sit up and notice us. Which they are already doing because we represent both a challenge and an opportunity. Our fast growth—we only registered as a major party in July and already we have 40,000-plus members and supporters and 65 branches across the UK—signals to the older parties that our platform is popular with voters. When UKIP started surging in the polls, the parties twisted themselves into knots trying to UKIPify themselves. We want all other parties to WEPify. They can either work with us to deliver gender equality or they can make themselves look more like us to gain support. Steal our policies! We don’t mind provided you’re serious about implementing them!
How will you try to involve men in the party and be sure not to alienate them?
CM: We are the Women’s Equality Party because our goal is to achieve equality for the more than half the population that has never enjoyed it. But the issues we are addressing are not simply women’s issues but people issues. Politics and business are the poorer for the lack of women at all levels. The economy—and therefore all of us, of all genders—are missing out. Unlocking the potential of women in the workplace would enable the economy to grow 10% by 2030; businesses that foster and retain female talent outperform other businesses. Ensuring men can enjoy the opportunities and responsibilities of shared parenting and caregiving would make for a happier society. I’m glad to say many men are already joining us. They understand this is a party for them. They understand that gender equality is good for everybody.
Some people will say that the party merely operates as a pressure group. How will you convince people that the party can stand alongside others when it is a single issue group?
CM: Gender equality is very far from being a single issue. We have six core objectives, around equal representation, equal pay and an equal opportunity to thrive, equality in and through education, shared opportunities in caregiving, equal treatment of women by and in the media, and an end to violence against women. These are huge and complex areas but we have clear and intensely practical policies to address every single one of them. And we are not a pressure group but a political party that is going to stand for election as early as May 2016—and win.
For more information about the Women’s Equality Party, or to become a member, visit https://womensequality.org.uk/
Image: Catherine Mayer
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