This year marks 100 years since women were first given the vote. Even then it was only partially - they had to be over 30 and meet certain property qualifications. That partiality continues today. Women still only make up one-third of MPs and there are more men named John leading FTSE 100 boards than women. Women, in particular black and disabled women, are more likely to harmed by the impacts of austerity than any other demographics group.
But I have several reasons for being optimistic that 2018 could bring a significant step-change towards female equality.
It feels like feminism has reached a new level of public consciousness. The Harvey Weinstein affair and the #MeToo campaign brought the issue to new audiences and recruited new sympathisers to the movement. Parliament is now looking at how it can do more to protect female employees and MPs and across Britain it feels like we have arrived at a greater understanding of the pervasiveness of female harassment and a collective commitment to do something about it.
The anniversary of female suffrage provides the perfect opportunity to deliver on that commitment. A Centenary Action Group has been formed, a coalition of leading women’s NGOs, charities, and political parties, and we will be using this year to focus parliamentary minds on the progress that still needs to be made, from introducing job-sharing for MPs to free childcare and equal parental leave, before we can say that women speak from an equal platform with men.
One of the reforms we will be supporting is already being considered by the national police and the Met Police in London: labelling misogyny a hate crime. It’s something I called for in my speech to the Green Party conference at the same time as disclosing my own personal experiences of domestic violence. I believe that this one change could have an enormous impact - helping more women to come forwards about experiences of harassment and granting some official recognition for the fact that women still continue to receive abuse just for being women.
And around the corner are the local elections. England’s councils are dreadfully unrepresentative - a product partly of the patriarchal nature of British politics generally but also of the low allowance rate that councillors receive, requiring those who take up the role to be either retired or in receipt of a high salary. Just 1 in 3 councillors total and 1 in 5 council leaders are women. May 2018 offers us a chance to redress that imbalance. I have laid down a challenge to my own party to stand more women than ever before and will be mentoring young women who stand for election.
So I enter 2018 with a mix of emotions. Frustrated, angry, and yes, upset by my recent experiences on the Twitter. I’m certain they won’t be the last. But I am also hopeful that this year we can make some major strides forwards for women. Let’s make 2018 the year of women.