When I first heard Sandi Toksvig give her reason for leaving the Friday night News Quiz as setting up the Women’s Equality Party my heart gave a little leap. I have only ever been interested in politics a couple of times in my life… the first time when I discovered feminism at university and realised it made perfect sense in explaining the order of things in the world and the second time was ahead of the 1997 election when it looked like we would finally have a government that would take women and their lives seriously. That was a honeymoon period which didn’t last. As a journalist I interviewed Glenys Kinnock about British politics and she said she could in no way join a Parliament which faced each other as enemies and was built around the politics of opposition. I totally agreed and still do.
Getting equal numbers is important but so is changing structures and cultures… it does not always happen automatically! Women and particularly women in the mainstream of business and politics where processes have been established around the lives and characteristics of men become immersed in the dominant culture rather than establish their own. This in no way blames women for being like men, they may well be or they may well learn to be – it may have to happen to progress.
So a group of really inspiring and brilliant women from the mainstream, let it be said, rather than the margins which is where my early feminist activities and beliefs were drawn from… are spelling it out. I only hope the complexities of gender relations imbued as they are with power and dominance get their just attention.
I have argued for years for quotas for women on boards and even in senior management in certain circumstances. During the Treasury Select Committee’s interviews and published in their Report into Women and the City which I submitted evidence,
Sally Keeble– the only female member of the committee…noted that women had not gained one step of equality without the aid of legislation i.e. if left to men over the years we would still be without property rights, rights over our children, barred from professions and education etc. etc. We may look in aghast at Saudi Arabia where women’s second class status is enshrined in law but we have not got that big a headstart – what is a hundred years or so in history?
I hope the WE party are prepared for the inevitable backlash that may follow their formation. I know they are keen to engage with all political parties and urge them to adopt their policies but a note of caution – historically when women’s concerns have been politicised, mainstream parties have often co-opted their demands and made them their own, only to shuffle them further down the pack at a later date.
The time is right for women to make their own arguments and have their own party and hold out for the changes they want to make.