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#WElaunch: on Tuesday 20th October 2015. Because equality is better for everyone.

20 Oct

It’s been great to see how much press the newly minted Women’s Equality party has been getting in recent weeks, with calls for Parliamentary quotas to get us to a 50:50 male/female balanced House of Commons within ten years.

#WEP logoPlus I like the very robust rebuttal from party leader Sophie Walker, in response to “suggestions” that this approach could challenge the concept of merit.

Quoted in the Guardian, Walker says, in response to traditional criticism that quotas could be unfair on male candidates and unmeritocratic:

“Which quotas are you referring to? Are you referring to the quotas we are suggesting here, or are you referring the centuries-old, unlegislated quotas that have meant men have had an unfair institutional advantage for centuries? To me, those are quotas – it’s just they are not written down in law. That makes them much more invidious.”

Walker addressed the argument that quotas allow in mediocre people by saying: “A system in which you are fishing in a small pool of people who all look and sound alike is more likely to create mediocrity than if you break it open to the huge diversity in our country. We have 30 million women in the country; I think it’s highly unlikely you would struggle to find 325 brilliant ones to become MPs.”

And look at how much momentum the party is gaining;  WE now has 45,000 members and supporters across 65 branches, compared with UKIP’s most recent claim to have “more than 40,000” members and the Green party’s 65,000.

Today sees the party launch its policy document,  which will show and share how WE proposes to tackle its aims of equality in politics, business, education, pay, parenting and the media, as well as an end to violence against women.

You can download the policy paper here and here’s some footage of the launch event:

This week, I’m watching: “Suffragette”

12 Oct

Suffragette film_Oct 2015Today, on its first day of full UK release, I went to an afternoon showing of the film “Suffragette”. I emerged into the Salisbury sunshine two hours later – blinking, stunned, slightly tearful, emotionally overwhelmed and full of gratitude for my life as a 21st century woman.

A life in which I can earn and  use my own money to make payments; a life in which seven year old girls don’t start work in a laundry; a life in which women don’t lose their children or their maternal rights in the event of marital breakdown; a life in which no means no and rape is a crime; above all, a life in which both women and men have the right to vote and make their voices heard.

“Your laws mean nothing to me, I’ve had no say in making the law.”

This is an astonishing piece of film making and one which I think does great credit, not only to the memory of the women who gave up so much so that we have the right to vote but also to the largely female cast and crew:  director Sarah Gavron, scriptwriter Abi Morgan and particularly Carey Mulligan, who gives a brilliant and, I hope, award winning performance as laundry worker Maud and tells us that –

“All my life I’ve been respectful, done what men told me” but who evolves through a series of life changing events and activities to scornfully ask of the policeman who torments and hounds her:

“What are you going to do – lock us all up? We’re in every home, we’re half the human race.”

Watch the trailer, then go and see it for yourself. And then, women everywhere, please use your vote every opportunity that you can.

#WE: celebrating the Women’s Equality Party online today

19 Aug

WEP membership cardMy shiny new Women’s Equality Party “Founding Member” card arrived last week, just in time to join in today’s online celebrations for #WE and to get #WeAreWe and #WEPnesday trending.

The card arrived with a matching WEP sticker and we were asked to “put the sticker on your phone, take a picture in the mirror and post the picture on Twitter and Facebook as the clocks strike noon. If WE all post at the same moment – WE will be noticed!”

I have zero talent for taking selfies, with or without stickers, so I did my own take on the suggestion:

WEP launch selfieAnd indeed, we are being noticed – #WE is trending, alongside the announcement of the latest recruit to this year’s Strictly Come Dancing celebrity roster.

Great people to follow on Twitter for more WEP (@WEP_UK) details include founders @catherine_meyer, @sanditoksvig and leader @sophierunning – and there’s lots more detail about the WEP (the what and the why) on my blog post from last month and their website.

#WE: I’m in.

27 Jul

#WEP logoTo possibly the surprise of, oh, pretty much nobody,  I’ve just joined the newly-minted Women’s Equality Party as a founder member. After a year out of work,  I haven’t yet started earning again (that comes next week,  when I start my new job)  but somehow,  paying to support and join a party which has women’s equal participation as its sole manifesto feels likes something that I want to do now that I’m in a position to do so. I felt so frustrated and disillusioned with the way in which the main political parties approached gender issues during the most recent UK election that being a positive part of a different way forward feels like something that I can really get behind.

One of the things that I didn’t predict happening when I moved out of London in 2013 was how very isolated I would feel, politically. I’ve gone from living in one of the most diverse cities in the world, in a Labour held constituency with female and Asian candidates on not only my own constituency’s candidate list but also on the lists of the adjacent constituencies,  to being an invisible resident in a location where every single candidate who was fielded here on May 7th 2015 was a white man.  My general voting approach,  if I’ve been after a tactical plan rather than voting for the majority candidate,  has been to consider voting for the female candidate on the docket – but here,  for the first time in my entire voting life that I can remember,  there was no female.  I did get quite excited when I saw that the Labour candidate was called Kim – but no, Kim was a bloke too. I did vote for him,  as it happens,  along with a few hundred others but it made no difference,  either to Kim, the constituency profile or of course,  the majority Government.

So. A new way forward.  Although I loathe everything they stand for,  UKIP have shown us that being a single issue party can be a platform on which to build success and a profile and what could be a bigger single issue than bringing about more equality for 51% of the population?

Repeat after me: “Women are not a minority …”

Here’s the link to the BBC story on the party being set up by Sandi Toksvig in May. And here’s the #WE party objectives:

Our objectives

#WE are pushing for equal representation in politics, business, industry and throughout working life. 

#WE are pressing for equal pay and an equal opportunity to thrive. 

#WE are campaigning for equal parenting and caregiving and shared responsibilities at home to give everyone equal opportunities both in family life and in the work place. 

#WE urge an education system that creates opportunities for all children and an understanding of why this matters.  #WE strive for equal treatment of women by and in the media. 

#WE seek an end to violence against women.

“Feminism is the unfinished revolution …”

13 Mar

– declared Natasha Walter in The Guardian earlier this week,  in her column about the centenary of International Women’s Day. Meanwhile,  back in my spiritual home of India, Dr Elizabeth Menon‘s piece in The Hindu reminded us that equality for some is still very elusive.

For me,  IWD was all about spending the day at a university,  at which I spoke and chaired an event called “Breaking Glass”.  I heard about the glass ceiling as it exists within academia and learned,  not altogether surprisingly,  that the issues faced by female staff at universities (reasonably high numbers at entry level, falling away at a career mid point,  subsequent difficulties in progressing to the top tier) mirror almost exactly those faced by their sisters in the corporate world.

I used the centenary of IWD to structure my talk around the way in which the world has changed for women since 1911 and the key events and people who have made those changes come about.  My brief had been to “make it light”,  so I peppered my slides with a few key quotations – some of which I share now.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women …”

– Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, 1997 – 2001

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what a feminist is.  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

– Rebecca West, writer, 1913

“Well behaved women seldom make history …”

– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor at Harvard University

“I wanted to work there because I wanted to become a writer. I was quickly assured that women didn’t become writers at Newsweek. It would never have crossed my mind to object … It was a given in those days that if you were a woman and you wanted to do certain things, you were going to have to be the exception to the rule.”

– Nora Ephron – writer, novelist, film director [on starting her career in 1962]

My favourite quotation,  which I didn’t use because I hadn’t then read the originating article,  comes from Mariella Frostrup in The Observer,  who,  in a blistering and truly excellent piece of journalism, reminded us that the struggle is far from over and that,  within the closed world of UK politics:

“… there are more blokes called Dave and Nick in government than there are women MPs. Women continue to hover at a steady 19% in the chamber, put off perhaps by a testosterone-fuelled climate where the last two prime ministers’ wives have given up high- flying careers to support their husbands or simply to satisfy the perceived demands of middle England.”

Check it out – one of the best and most impassioned articles on feminism you may read.

So when you blog and Tweet about …

21 Aug

… the current Australian Prime Minister …. I guess you shouldn’t be surprised if she then decides to follow you on Twitter:

Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) is now following your tweets (@TheGenderBlog) on Twitter.

Julia Gillard
Canberra, Australia
136 29,286 44,568
tweets following followers

The BBC are reporting,  as of this Saturday evening UK time,  that it’s going to be a hung parliament in Australia,  much as we’re currently enjoying here.  Nail biting stuff.

(If you’re following it on Twitter too, #AusVotes is a good hashtag).

Is Julia Gillard heading for the Glass Cliff?

20 Aug

(c) BBC

Tomorrow sees a general election in Australia, and the two main parties are currently neck and neck at the polls.

Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, is facing a fight to the finish with conservative coalition leader Tony Abbott.  Ms Gillard became Prime Minister in June after ousting her predecessor, Kevin Rudd.

But reports say that she faces a backlash at the ballot box over a range of issues,  including the way she replaced Mr Rudd as head of the Labor party and her policy directions on climate change and immigration.

If the Labor party,  currently just ahead in the polls at 52%,  does lose the election,  what will this mean for Gillard’s career? Will she be left to carry the can and blamed for the loss?  Or will there be an appreciation for the political status quo that she inherited so recently, at a time when the Labor Party’s popularity was sliding in the opinion polls?

Apparently, say the BBC, Kevin Rudd “surrendered without a fight” after realising that his support amongst government colleagues had collapsed.

That sounds like a poison chalice of a job to me – in fact,  it sounds like the roles described by researchers at the University of Exeter in their paper a few years ago as the “glass cliff”,  in which they suggest that senior women are:

“… more likely than men to find themselves in positions associated with a high risk of failure and are correspondingly precarious. … A female candidate is overwhelmingly favoured if the opening is described as difficult and involving a high risk of failure.”

The paper,  entitled “The Glass Cliff: Evidence That Women Are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions”, summarises the glass cliff position as follows:

  • While men are given safer and more secure jobs, women at all levels often feel that they have been “set up to fail”;
  • Such leadership roles can lead to increased stress for women leaders, and can contribute to larger numbers of women departing senior management positions;
  • Glass cliffs may also have repercussions for organisations, leading to poor communication and decision making

The research,  conducted in 2005 and updated in 2007, was conducted across a range of sectors which included business,  the law and, crucially here, politics. Significantly,  Julia Gillard was not handed the role of Labor Party leader/first female Prime Minister,  but actively sought it out – so in that regard,  the concept of being appointed to  a doomed, risky role does not apply to her.

However,  should her party lose at tomorrow’s election,  the blame will undoubtedly be laid at her door and you don’t have to be psychic to predict that there’ll be a media firestorm suggesting that the Aussie electorate didn’t vote for her due to her gender,  and/or because they didn’t want to have an elected (as opposed to an appointed) female Prime Minister.

Whilst,  as outlined here in this guest blog for Catalyst,  Australia does have a relatively high proportion of high profile, successful women in senior political roles,  the amount of media attention focussed on Gillard over the last two months has been intense and has been largely centred on her gender and personal life.

So, irrespective of whether she strode to the cliff edge herself or was parked there – I see that Australia’s first female Prime Minister is  poised on the edge of the glass cliff at the moment – and only the Australian electorate can keep her there or send her tumbling over the precipice.

However, on a lighter note,  just as we had Paul the Octopus making (ultimately) successful forecasts during the World Cup last month,  Australia now has psychic crocodile Dirty Harry making election predictions. Of course,  given that crocodiles are a bit more vicious and unpredictable in their behaviour than are our eight legged “friends”,  the selection protocol is a bit more feral:  this time,  Harry has to indicate the electoral winner by lunging for some raw chicken hanging below images of Gillard and Abbott.

Watch the video link here to see who he picks – and may the best crocodile win tomorrow.


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