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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 06-Nov-15 17:49:44

Guest post: Sandi Toksvig - "The time is right for the Women's Equality Party"

Enacting the Party's policies will be harder than formulating them, says Blogfest speaker Sandi Toksvig - but the response so far has been overwhelming.

Want to hear what Sandi Toksvig has to say in person? Book a ticket to Blogfest on 21 November - and if you bring a friend, we'll give you 25% off. Just use the code BloggerFriends when booking two or more tickets.

Sandi Toksvig

Women's Equality Party

Posted on: Fri 06-Nov-15 17:49:44

(533 comments )

Lead photo

"This is not some dreamy group wistfully hoping for change."

I'm rather old fashioned in my beliefs. I always thought that when Parliament passed a law, people were supposed to take notice. So how is it that 45 years ago an Equal Pay Act was introduced, and yet no one has really acted to make sure we get it? When I mentioned the gender pay gap to the environment minister, Liz Truss, she said "It's smaller than it's ever been." It's at 19%. How big was it before?

Much of the world baffles me. How does the UK tolerate the fact that so many women -- because they are women -- still live in poverty, suffer harassment and violence, and abandon careers they enjoy because of the exorbitant costs of childcare? I've come to the sad conclusion that in its current form our political system can't be trusted to deal with any of this. There are twice as many men as women in the House of Commons, and they seem to spend most of their time shouting and jeering at one another. Frankly, like many of you, I'm embarrassed by it. Seven months ago, in conversation with my friend Catherine Mayer, I realised it was time for us to take matters into our own hands.

So in March 2015 we founded the Women's Equality Party, a new political force that (we hoped) would unite people of all genders, ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs and experiences in the shared determination to see women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men. It would be something new. Non-partisan. Attracting people from the left, from the right, from the centre. People who have had enough of waiting for equality. I have to say even at my most ambitious and optimistic, I could not have predicted the flood of support that soon washed over us. Within seven months WE have more than 50,000 members and supporters, ably led by Sophie Walker, 65 branches across the country and will be standing candidates in the spring elections.

WE heard from mothers who want to go back to work but can't, because of crippling childcare costs. WE heard from mothers who choose to stay at home, but feel dismissed by society for doing so.


This is not some dreamy group wistfully hoping for change. Late last month, just six months after that initial conversation, I found myself sitting in a hall packed with cheering activists and supporters, clutching a book of wonderfully pragmatic policy proposals. Policies developed through close consultation with experts and our members, and representing the experiences and concerns of thousands of women and men across the country.

WE heard from mothers who want to go back to work but can't, because of crippling childcare costs, and because so few workplaces have actually embraced flexible working.

WE heard from mothers who choose to stay at home, but feel dismissed by society for doing so because, despite its immense value, caring labour is still not recognised, respected and supported.

WE heard from fathers who desperately want to share the joys and responsibilities of parenthood, but are stigmatised for wanting to balance work and home life.

All these experiences reinforced our awareness that care is not taken seriously in our society, nor are the people who care.

WE want to change that.

That's why we propose a dramatic overhaul of parental leave policy. We would guarantee both parents six weeks of non-transferable leave on 90% pay, with an additional 10 months of shared parental leave at statutory pay. This policy would, of course, encompass same-sex couples and adoptive parents, while single parents would be entitled to nominate a second caregiver.

Once this period of leave has passed, WE believe that families should immediately have access to affordable, high-quality childcare. The educational benefits of childcare are clearest in the first 15 hours a week, so those hours should be entirely state funded, with the rest payable at one pound per hour by parents.

These policies are good for women, who have greater freedom to balance work and home life (which will, of course, mean different things to different people). But they're also excellent for men who, for too long, have been excluded from participating fully in family life because care is seen as unmanly, and paternity leave as unprofessional.

Of course, all of our policies require a blend of legislative and cultural change. The reason the Equal Pay Act still isn't working properly is because back in 1970 we changed the law without changing the way people think.

And that's where education comes in.

Many people think equality in education has already been achieved, since girls consistently outperform boys academically. But education is about more than grades, it's about learning how to live, and work, and build relationships. And at present, our children are learning to live according to ludicrous, outdated notions of 'masculine' and 'feminine' behaviour.

So WE want more diverse role models for both boys and girls, starting with encouraging more men to enter primary school teaching and other caring roles. And WE want careers guidance that pays no heed to gender when helping young people to map their futures. And WE want proper, honest sex and relationships education to finally become a reality.

It all sounds very obvious and straightforward, doesn't it? Sadly, enacting these policies will be a lot harder than formulating them. And that's why WE need you. Join us, share your ideas. The time is right for this movement, and WE want you to be part of it.

Photo: Fiona Hanson

By Sandi Toksvig

Twitter: @sanditoksvig

zzzzz Fri 06-Nov-15 18:54:07

Many people think equality in education has already been achieved, since girls consistently outperform boys academically.

If one gender consistently outperforms another exactly HOW does that imply equality? confused

squidzin Fri 06-Nov-15 19:12:52

Females are able to flourish in education but unable to flourish in the workplace so an "equality" by way of balance, perhaps?

squidzin Fri 06-Nov-15 19:17:39

A WEP for the UK is long overdue. Women need a voice and representation in parliament.

38 Degrees and Change.org are not enough...

I'm already a member of the Green Party and the Labour Party (though not sure the Labour Party approve of this, they're a bit traditional about party loyalty I think) But could I join the Women's Equality Party too? - like everything you're saying, and it might be amusing and provoke some debate to be a member of three parties?!

HermioneWeasley Fri 06-Nov-15 20:52:59

What is the WEP's stance on "woman" being defined by a feeling rather than biological reality? Will the WEP stand up for biological women to have woman only space?

iwantanewcar Fri 06-Nov-15 20:56:03

What if I like your ideals but don't like how you propose to achieve them? How will policies be debated and revised going forward?

zzzzz Fri 06-Nov-15 21:08:36

I could never vote for you. Half of the people I love most in the world are not women. I know my male nearest and dearest never vote for or expect me to vote for the "Male equality party".
I want all my children to flourish regardless of anyone's views on what they should or shouldn't do based on their genetalia. This seems bias from the start.

HermioneWeasley Fri 06-Nov-15 21:10:36

Zzzz, how do you think women having equality is damaging for the men in your life?

EmpressKnowsWhereHerTowelIs Fri 06-Nov-15 21:16:26

I'd like an answer to Hermione's question about women-only space too please.

I emailed WEP on Tuesday 3rd re their support for moving Tara Hudson to a women's prison, but I've only had an auto-reply promising a response within 3 working days (eg by today).

Nicky Morgan's suggestion that anyone should be able to self-identify as a woman, regardless of whether they've made any move towards to transitioning or even intend to, is frankly scary, Sandi. How is WE going to defend our right to our own identity and space?

kua Fri 06-Nov-15 21:16:46

I also would like to know the WEP position on woman only spaces. For clarity, I mean women biologically born.

zzzzz Fri 06-Nov-15 21:24:38

I think IF it was about Equality it would be a People's Equality Party. I would not join the White Equality Party either.
Arf at the concept of the men in my life being damaged by equality of the sexes.

CharlieSierra Fri 06-Nov-15 21:28:55

I would also like to know the WEP position on women only spaces. I'm considering revoking my membership following their support for moving Tara Hudson to a women's prison.

Goodbetterbest Fri 06-Nov-15 22:14:19

I am really struggling with the name. As PP have said, I wouldn't join any party that is specific towards one group, although I do believe it is time for a new political party an applaud you for stepping up. It just doesn't feel quite right to me as it stands.

squidzin Fri 06-Nov-15 22:35:45

To Zzzz
"White equality party" wtf. If only there was one!! All political parties are dominated by whites. Do they want equality? I don't think so.

There isn't a "Man's equality party" either why do you think that is? (clue: male privilege).

True equality for all comes with Marxism. So if you want a "People's equality party" why don't you read up on that.

As it stands the only way to acheive equality is for women to fight for it because men don't want it. They quite like their privilege thanku very much.

squidzin Fri 06-Nov-15 22:46:45

Goodbetterbest. If you don't want to join a party specific to one group, then your options are limited to null.

All British political parties are specific to one group which is wealthy white males. We accept this as a given. It's time to question why.

sausageeggbacon111 Fri 06-Nov-15 22:49:59

Given the fact that realistically the party will be marginal most if not all candidates losing their deposits the party will be like the greens 40 years ago trying to highlight issues. Sex Party and the MB mens party are likely to be doing the same and no one expects any of these parties to get traction. I doubt that the success that feminists had in Sweden will happen in the UK.

zzzzz Fri 06-Nov-15 22:49:59

I wouldn't join a party with a gender in its name. If you feel that's fighting the good fight, then knock yourself out, but I doubt I'm the only person who feels that way. Rather than suggesting that I shouldn't feel as I feel why not address my concern in a non offensive way? Not everyone who questions or disagrees is sexist, stupid or oppressed. [mildly irritated].

HairyLittleCarrot Fri 06-Nov-15 23:05:42

I also want to ask the WEP about women only spaces. Many women who have a fundamental belief at their core of respect, equality and tolerance, are beginning to realise that there is a very insidious impact to women from identity politics.

The concept of gender is beginning to supercede the reality of sex, and as a result we are facing the legally sanctioned erasure of the few safe spaces segregated by sex.

There are too few voices in the public domain facing down the barrage of activism and saying "hang on, protections for women are being demolished and people are cheering this on - stop!"

Please take the time to read some of the recent threads on women's rights vs identity politics - there is an articulate, civil and intelligent debate happening with very valid viewpoints, and real life consequences for all women. Our voices are not being heard, these considerations are not making it to the mainstream media and it is critically important that this gets discussed.

WheresMyBurrito Fri 06-Nov-15 23:07:50

That parental leave policy isn't "drastically" different to what we have now. I'm on leave at the moment; I got my six weeks at 90%. I then dropped to SMP. DH and I are splitting the leave between us. Granted it's 9 months paid leave rather than 6 weeks + 10 months, but I don't think it's that much difference.

Also - I'm interested to know how you would be supporting SAHPs? I'm planning to return to work and it's great that you'd support that, but I have friends who are SAHMs who have (rightly) expressed their concerns that the WEP seems to put the same emphasis on getting women back into work as the main parties currently do. Surely the emphasis should be on choice, and supporting that choice?

IamTheWhoreofBabylon Fri 06-Nov-15 23:13:25

I too am interested in your position on women's rights and, specifically, the right to female only spaces (female bodied)
Women's rights are being trampled on and women's groups seem to be supporting this <disillusioned>

FreshwaterSelkie Sat 07-Nov-15 06:19:51

Thoroughly agree that the time is right for the WEP, I'm behind it 100%, and the name describes what I think the political landscape needs, so no problems on that front for me.

I don't think the expectation is that they'll sweep the board in elections, the point is to get the issues out on the table and to start shifting thinking, and this is the way to do it, IMO. Good luck, WEP!

ocelot41 Sat 07-Nov-15 07:36:27

Crikey, you wait for ages for a party to come along that you want to support and then two come along at once. Its like buses....

Cerseirys Sat 07-Nov-15 07:47:05

I've also read that the WEP will be campaigning for partners to be allowed to stay overnight in all postnatal wards. Is this true?

whatdoIget Sat 07-Nov-15 08:29:31

It's so bloody annoying that every discussion of feminism or women's rights has to now address the trans question, but it does doesn't it? The WEP is needed but I won't be supporting it unless it is fighting for equality for biological women, who do not have the privilege of being born male.
I'm also interested in what the WEP propose to do to help single parents and their families, especially those who are forced by circumstances to live in poverty. These parents are overwhelmingly female. And how to address the culture of it seemingly being perfectly acceptable for a man to leave his family and not see them again or financially support them (namalt of course smile )
Lots more good affordable childcare would be the answer to many problems faced by women, but changing the culture of women being mainly responsible for children and home will be very difficult

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