WowWhy do we need a Women’s Equality Party? –Why do we need a Women of the World Festival? A personal view.

On Tuesday I signed my forms to put my name forward as a candidate for the London elections on 5th May 2016. It’s been just 2 months since I applied to be considered and I’ve encountered a very different London in that time from the one I have learned to navigate and call home in the last 20 years. This week marked the 1st Birthday of the Women’s Equality Party and International Women’s Day.

He: I’ve never agreed with International Women’s Day
Me: Thanks, mate, we don’t know need your permission or approval to hold it
She: I’ve never agreed with International Women’s Day –
Me: That’s fine you don’t have to come
She: You’re just a bunch of middle class women pushing against a glass ceiling – but I don’t know much about you.
Me: Let’s have a coffee…
He: You’re just a bunch of women fracturing the left wing vote – but I don’t know much about you –
Do you really have 45000 members? I’m from Momentum, Can I come to one of your meetings?
Me: Of course
He: You’re just splitting the vote – taking away Green voters….
Me – We’re non partisan, we want to work with you

Oh and there was something so patronising from a Conservative bag carrier, we won’t dignify it – to which the response is: “What are you so afraid of?”

From 20 years of expanding arts participation, here is something I have learned which completely applies to this new way of doing politics: by invitation, inclusion and not by adversarial in-yer-face argument. WE are not building our movement just by seeking to convert voters committed to one ideology or another, although WE are happy to talk with anyone who wants to take Women’s Equality seriously. That’s the beauty of being non-partisan. It is interesting/dull how resistant the entrenched traditionalists are to the idea of working together towards a common cause. In my experience, there is a startling lack of imagination in the mainstream parties about how to treat the electorate. My personal feeling is that the tide of events will show the big parties that the world is changing and WE’s approach is ahead of the curve.

WE are building our grass roots movement by encouraging people who do not see themselves reflected in the traditional  debates to get involved by presenting them with solutions for issues that affect their everyday lives and which also express the deeper values of who we are as a society. WE are encouraging these people to join the conversation, to consider our six objectives and how their realisation would impact their lives, the lives of their communities, their city, this whole nation.

Our objectives and our policy have been put together, costed and tested through our membership – proving just what an effective and multi-faceted resource the WE party membership already contains. Our funds have been crowd-sourced, often in a matter of days. Our hustings for candidates gave space for lots of people to ask questions in a non combative environment. WE offered room for many voices and for candidates to find out what’s important to the membership. Our message is being communicated through 70 branches staffed by volunteers as well as in national press. WE are not a minority interest group and WE are using the best forms of inclusion, involvement, trust and invitation to change the story of politics, change the story of women and make life better for everyone.

He: Don’t male MPs represent women as well – since they vote for them too?
(NO, Not really, since the number of women on the electoral roll is falling and those women who are on it increasingly fail to show up and vote.)

As a candidate on the London List for the Women’s Equality Party in the GLA election, I am committed to encouraging more people to vote, especially those people who are not yet registered to vote. It is not too late: 18th April is the last date to register to have your say in one of the UK’s most democratic elections on 5th May 2016. The London List is decided by proportional representation and the London Assembly depends on collaboration and compromise to get work done.

“Quotas are ridiculous, everything should be decided by merit”; WE quite agree and we require a 50:50 system decided by merit. For centuries, women’s merit has been ignored and in many walks of life it still is.

I joined the Women’s Equality party because as was the case for many other people, the 2015 General Election left me with more questions than it answered. I could not see how the current two party system could claim to be a legitimate representation of the views of the UK population. The Mother of Parliaments was a brave and forward looking institution when it was founded, and I would like to see it make a genuine claim to that status again & not when I’m as old as the Queen.

So whether you love us or loathe us, or think we are an irrelevance WE want to talk to you all. WE want to involve everyone in politics and redefine the values and decisions which express who we are as a society.

That’s why WE exist.

Slowly and with some resistance I’ve realized over the last few weeks how much of the inequality around me I have internalized. From my education, to my pay, to the harassment I’ve received, my personal safety as I travel around, the images of women I’ve had to live with and preconceptions I’ve had to get past, the hidden taxation, my health, the legal and political structures, work and advancement opportunities. All this extra effort I’ve had to make because of an accident of birth that has nothing to do with my innate qualities. I’ve never wanted women to see themselves as “less than”, as victims and part of me is furious that the existence of WE is necessary.

That’s why: On Tuesday I took time to mark International Women’s Day for the first time. Yesterday I went to Women of the World Event for the first time. On Saturday I marched with Million Women Rise and heard speaker after speaker, group after group highlighting how violence against women disqualifies us from calling ourselves a civilized society.

I’ve realized that the women’s equality will not happen by accident. WE have to make it happen. I want to see women and men being offered an equal deal. This is not just about women.

So whatever you’ve heard or read,

WE are here,

WE mean business and

WE will only go away when

Women’s Equality is here and the world is unthinkable without it.

I’ll be at WOW this weekend for the WE Birthday Party and I’ll be selling merchandise and talking about the Party. Come and find us, join and buy stuff.

Women’s Equality will not happen by itself.