When I first heard about the Women's Equality Party from the irrepressibly ebullient Sandi Toksvig I was intrigued. Toksvig and Catherine Mayer, a journalist and writer, set up the party. The leader of the party is another journalist Sophie Walker with a stellar career to date. The WEP has received support from Emma Thompson who is pledging her vote, she's spoken to them all apparently, well she is Emma Thompson. Excited by all this talk of women's equality I posted a message on their Facebook page, I didn't hear back. Sorry I don't mean to sound begrudging, isn't the whole point of the party to make women feel inclusive irrespective of your background? Instantly, I felt snubbed.
They argue that if the gender pay gap is rectified it would solve much of the world's economic ills. Unfair though it is, this issue doesn't apply to the women who voluntarily choose not to work and take care of their children instead or engage in unpaid child care or unpaid care for elderly parents. Motherhood can mean that many women are forced into part time employment or short-term contracts, with poor pay and few rights, how will the WEP tackle this?
What constitutes meaningful work these days? Being a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, a Hollywood actress, a cleaning lady? The spectrum of work is vast, when they talk of closing the gender pay gap in which professions are they talking about? And the actual notion of work is becoming quite nebulous these days. The job for life that the baby boomers enjoyed has become a thing of the past.
They talk of parental leave of 6 weeks - it's still nothing in the scheme of a baby's life - and nine months free childcare. This is great for women who need/choose to go back to work, but there are those mothers who voluntarily take a career break and opt to stay at home with their baby during the first 1001 critical first days of life and then find it very daunting to get back into work. How will the WEP support these women?
It's shameful that men are only offered two weeks paternity leave, even more so that most don't take it (they say they would like to but fear they can't) but this just puts more strain on mothers. Two weeks does not constitute equal parenting, and what about mothers who suffer maternal mental illness how does this party propose to support them? Suicide is the primary indirect cause of maternal death in the UK.
Drawing of my first born son created in hospital a few days after he was born when I was suffering from postpartum psychosis (pencil and ink on A3 paper, 2010)
Encouraging girls to go into science is positive, but also encouraging girls from poor and ethnically diverse backgrounds to go into the arts is just as important. Culturally there is a dearth of representation of Black and Asian talent in the arts, film, TV and broadcasting. I could probably name a mere handful of names if that. If more ethnically diverse women were represented it would lead to more inclusive societies and a richer cultural landscape. If we are not careful the arts will become the preserve of children with affluent parents.
The WEP seem to be a one-policy party and so far I have just seen pictures of a trio of white middle class women grinning from ear to ear looking rather pleased with themselves. Surely a women's party that purports to represent women should have a diverse range of voices from a range of backgrounds campaigning for a wider plethora of policies.
The gender pay gap focus also excludes many women who are working in the voluntary sector by choice. These women would still like to be heard, still like to have a voice and be recognised for their contribution to society. If we value women only by what they earn we haven't made much progress at all.
A Women's Equality Party must address the needs of old women, women from ethnic minorities, women with mental health problems, stay at home mothers, unemployed female graduates, long-term unemployed women, women offenders/addicts, women in low paid, part time jobs, homeless women, disabled women, and sexually and physically abused broken women/girls/children who need help rebuilding their lives.
From what I have heard so far the WEP hasn't displayed a breadth of policies that will tackle all of the above, at the moment it just seems like a middle class experiment with good intentions with high profile endorsement speaking in rather generic terms. According to Emma Thompson the WEP has put issues of 'caring for children and for the elderly - at the top of its agenda.' And 'it wants to see women in positions of authority in equal numbers.' Well this would be great indeed.
Personally, the only way our inequitable world is going to change is if the richest 1% is taxed on wealth, which they hoard and hide. Such accumulated wealth is another form of junk, but this junk could be put to great use. The Oxbridge bias needs to change, encouraging men and women from different educational and ethnic backgrounds to excel in all prominent spheres of society. The whole emphasis on an ever-growing GDP is not sustainable and doesn't encourage fair and equal growth. How much stuff can we produce, how much can we consume? Rather we should be reinvesting in our communities, our services, our parks, libraries, hospitals, crèches, schools and creating affordable homes but this is what all government's promise and fail to deliver consistently. Until we can address the inherent unfairness of a free market economy that rewards cowboy irresponsible bankers who choose to gamble and take unprecedented risks; and a system that is blatantly inequitable creating a divide that is becoming unbridgeable and untenable in the long term we won't see this equality that the WEP is waxing lyrical about.