The Women’s Equality Party, and why I joined it

Given my previous post, this one shouldn’t be much of a surprise. In March 2015, the Women’s Equality Party (WE) was formed, initially spearheader by Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig. I heard about it at the time, and was interested to follow its progression, but didn’t give it much thought.

On August 29th1, the Guardian ran a piece with Catherine Mayer, Sandi Toksvig and Sophie Walker, who was the new leader of the party (and will be until elections in 2016). I can’t put my finger on exactly what appealed within the article – other than the non-partisan nature spirit – but it was enough to convince me to join. As a package, it felt “right”. I’m member 4111, literally a card-carrying member so as to have a constant reminder and conscience-pricker if it’s necessary. I’ve never been the member of a political party before – although as far as WE are concerned I could join another party without it being a problem at all.

On October 20th, the party had a big launch event with first policy document outlining the vision for making progress against inequality along the six main objectives. (And yes, that’s my ugly mug on page 13 of the policy document.)

I’m not going to rehash the policies here – please read the policy document for details. It’s a very readable and clear set of policies, and I’m looking forward to discussing them further at my local branch. They’re not all “comfortable” policies, and I suspect the most controversial one will be around quotas for representation in the House of Commons. I don’t think anyone really likes the idea of quotas, and I hate the idea of either “lowering the bar” or even the perception of that. I don’t think we need to lower the bar at all in order to achieve equal representation – but I do think we may need to go further in order to encourage and support women candidates who are effectively fighting the cultural norm. (This is my view for women in STEM careers too, by the way.) Equality in representation is simply coming too slowly at the moment… other suggestions for quickening it would be welcome, I’m sure.

So why a political party, and why now? Why not just another pressure group? Well, in terms of timing, obviously I had nothing to do with it – it just so happened that WE came along at around the same time as my increasingly feminist view. But I do think the approach of forming a political party is an interesting one. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m imagining possible results being:

  • No change anywhere, and general frustration
  • Individual politicians taking a more pro-equality stance, even if their official party policies don’t change significantly
  • Mainstream parties making a much more serious effort – for example, taking into consideration (and ideally reporting) the impact of proposed policies on different sections of the community.
  • WE managing to get councillors and MPs elected, influencing government more directly

I’m guessing (or possibly hoping is more accurate) that it will be the second of these followed by the third. I want our representatives to be sufficiently afraid of the awkward questions being asked in hustings that they feel the best option is to tackle them head-on. I want them to try to outdo each other in constructing policies which will effect real change. I want them to feel proud of themselves at the end of the day for doing so, too.

Ultimately I believe that the most important change isn’t a legislative one, but a massive cultural shift. Ever-better laws protecting equal rights don’t accomplish that in and of themselves – but I think they send a positive message to society: “This is the sort of country we want to live in.” I’m sure that has happened already – while the same-sex marriage act 2013 undoubtedly upset many people, I believe it also encouraged a larger group to rethink their position on homosexuality, whether consciously or not.

Maybe WE will work. Maybe the party can be disbanded before I have grandchildren. Maybe it will be a dismal failure – but at least I’ll know I did my (little) bit to try.

1 Or thereabouts – the online piece says August 28th, but I believe it was in the August 29th print edition, which is where I saw it.

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Mad props to @arcaderage for the "Princess Rescue" image - see for the full original

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