It's a great time for women, isn't it? Last week events took place around the country for International Women's Day, families celebrated their loved ones on Mother's Day, and Women's History Month is currently rocking the US. Try not to think about that fact that when you say the word 'woman' in almost any region of the world, that word is political. It's strange carrying around a gender that deems to shape the way other people see you, or even the way you see yourself.
Worst still is something that International Women's Day seeks to show - that women are poorly represented in almost every work sector in the UK, and there is little being done to change this. Although women constitute 51% of the population, only 22% of MPs are women in the Commons, Westminster has been accused of poor representation of women and harassment of female employees, and according to the recent report 'Sex and Power 2013: Who Runs Britain?' Britain is falling down the global league tables when it comes to women's access to power and representation in politics. The report also found that the percentage of women in the cabinet has decreased by 4.3% in the past 10 years, and that two-thirds of local councillors are male.
The gender inequalities are clear, but there is a danger of becoming too complacent about them simply because the issues we face at home may be less glaringly obvious as those faced by women abroad. Also, in some cases our self-congratulations are not backed up by statistics: for example, this map of women's representation in politics worldwide shows that the UK is far down the list, at number 53. This puts us lower than Iraq at 38 and Afghanistan at 34, Islamic countries that are often-touted as repressive societies to women.
Although some measures have been taken by the main parties to decrease the gender divide, they have not been long-term, sustainable ventures. Labour's attempts at all-women shortlists have been effective at employing more females, but have also come under attack for potentially casting male candidates aside who might be more suited to those roles. Also, Labour's 33% women still falls short of being equal - and this is after the all-women shortlists. Next, the Liberal Democrats. In February this year Lord Rennard, prominent Lib Dem and member of the House of Lords, was accused by several female ex-Party members of sexual harassment, and earlier this week Nick Clegg admitted that his party had 'let down' the women involved. Finally, the ruling party. David Cameron has recognised the need to attract more women to politics, and made several comments to the press stating as much, but he has not taken the next step and created incentives for women to join the Conservative Party. Since politics is already heavily male dominated in this country, it is unlikely that women feel they have much to bring to a cabinet table that has already been shaped by men.
Perhaps though this isn't about women not being welcomed into British politics, but that the way the main parties are run is not welcoming to women.
However, there is a British party that demonstrates that there is another way. Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England & Wales, is the second female leader of the party, preceded by Caroline Lucas, who also became the first Green MP in the UK. Lucas also came fourth in a recent poll of the greatest British living woman.
The attraction of this political party for women is simple. Green Party benefits include practical things as a national rape crisis hotline, options for job-share, equal pay, maternity care, childcare and maternity/paternity leave, supporting breastfeeding, support for domestic abuse and violence. The three other major UK political parties do not come close to fulfilling these requirements for their female employees, and it is frequently discussed in the media that lack of job-share options in high-end jobs keep women from wanting those jobs generally, regardless of the sector.
It's a refreshing, daring perspective for a political party to take in the UK.
Many British people shudder at the thought of having a female prime minister, because their only experience of this was Margaret Thatcher. What we forget is that in order to be successful Thatcher felt the need to distance herself from the fact that she was a woman, making the famous statement 'I owe nothing to Women's Lib'. Contrast this with Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas, who are empowered women, not pretending to be men, aware of gender inequality in society and willing to do something about it. This difference between Maggie T and Natalie Bennett does not leave me wondering about the latter's leadership qualities, but standing in awe of them, as it seems to me that embracing your gender instead of fighting against it shows the courage and common sense required by a person to be fit to lead our country.
Green politics brings excitement to the party, a willingness to deal head-on with some hefty challenges, a fresh approach, and some much-needed optimism. The party also uses proportional representation in their internal elections and would like to explore this fairer approach for other ballots. For these reasons and others, The Green Party is growing, with two MEPs in the European Parliament, two members of the London Assembly, and 141 councillors in various local councils across England and Wales.
This party is not afraid to look at preventing and tackling the impacts of climate change, and working towards a stronger, more sustainable future. These women are not afraid to say - we can do better. Here is a party where women are political by choice, because their gender is no barrier to them. And for these reasons, they've got my vote.