I’m just back from the inaugural Women’s Equality Party Party Political Conference, my first ever grown up party. It’s still going on for the rest of this evening and tomorrow, but I have had to call time and come home. This is partly due to family commitments – of course – and partly due to the fact that my brain is brimming with more political input than it has ever previously considered.
I’ve heard about WASPIs and WOW, I’ve contacted my MP to make sure he’ll be in Parliament to vote on the Istanbul Convention to prevent violence against women, after 582 women lost their lives at the hands of their partners or former partners in the UK last year. I’ve considered the way that the major political parties could choose to work with WE, and I’ve had a little weep at the enormity of the fact that, in just 16 months, 65,000 people have joined a party to fight for something that really should just be a given. I’ve had a bigger cry about the fact that I don’t want my three girls to be fighting these same battles in twenty years’ time.
WE wants women to be equal. Eradication of the gender pay gap, equal treatment in the media, equal rights when it comes to safety and health. We are half of the population so surely this stuff is not rocket science? And yet it certainly isn’t happening.
However, thanks to WE, conversations have been started. Seeds have been sown. The hands of friendship have been extended. A cross party panel of Tory, Green, WEP and Lib Dem at conference were all in agreement that they are keen to work together, to consider future coalitions. This is the major thing that strikes me as different about this party – WE does not want to keep its ideas to itself. WE wants to share policies, collaborate, then step out of the way when the work is done. That in itself is refreshing. Instead of a system where one party comes in, sets up a bunch of stuff, crosses its fingers and hopes it’ll work, only to have to have it all taken back down again by the next government, to have something progressive, inclusive and worthwhile….well, that just seems logical, doesn’t it?
This is the part where political involvement gets scary for me. I don’t have the stats, the facts, the figures close to hand and that scares me. I don’t quite understand proportional representation or first past the post. I don’t feel confident enough to speak eloquently on all the subjects covered at conference, but presumably that will grow.
Catherine Mayer fluffed her inaugural speech. Her pages were out of order. She thought about going back, but she didn’t. Instead she swithered and dithered for a minute or two, before making a decision. As a result, her performance didn’t feel polished, or scarily professional, but it did feel funny and warm and her genuine emotional commitment to the cause she represents shone through. Party leader Sophie Walker’s sharing in her headline speech – about her daughter’s autism – contrasted sharply with her clearly thought out policies on creating a tax system that values both paid and unpaid contributions to society. It made her human and approachable, and revealed the fact that she felt the fear and did it anyway. It made me think that maybe I should step up and join in a little more.
I may not be slick or professional, but attending this conference has helped me to come away with new ideas – with the gist of what I ought to be saying when people ask me about my WE membership. Spending on infrastructure over the next four years is promised in its billions – it is needed, granted. It will provide jobs, true. But why is something like universal childcare, which would benefit all of us now, and for many generations to come, not a priority on every politician’s list?
For me, one of the most exciting ideas is the fact that the gap between parental leave ending and children starting nursery would be plugged under WE policy. That black hole between the age of nine months and three years where currently so many women are forced to opt to essentially work for nothing after childcare costs have been paid, or otherwise are forced to throw up their hands and step out of employment altogether, would be avoided.
Fifteen hours of free childcare would be provided to every family, followed by affordable childcare at a rate of £1 an hour. This would mean that instead of doing complicated sums to figure out whether I could afford to go back to work, it would be easy. Instead of it being a question of my job or your job, whose is worth the most, we would both be able to continue contributing and progressing on our chosen career paths. Childcare settings would be invested in, they would become a modern accessible places that we can all be happy to send our children. This, instead of living in a country where childcare is the most expensive in the world and all too often is organised in cramped, inappropriate spaces that resemble nothing more than factory farms.
My brain hurts with the enormity of it all. But writing this blog is my first step. If even one person reads it, and acts – by joining the party or lobbying their MP, then I’ve achieved something. As founder, Sandi Toksvig, so succinctly said:
“Let’s just get equality done – we’ve all got other shit to do.”