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Women’s Equality Party – what can they really achieve?

By: Sarah Alexander
Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - 12:32 GMT Jump to Comments

The UK’s fastest growing political party, The Women’s Equality Party (WE) launched its first policy in October. This was in the same week that The Information Daily held its AnswerTime® event on Women and Leadership in Public Service.

The UK reached only 26th position in an international survey that measures whether men and women have equal opportunities, a fall of 8 places since 2013. The WE has much to tackle, but what can it really achieve?

Women naturally make up half of the population, but only 1 in 5 FTSE 100 company directors is female. Women still occupy the lowest paid jobs, and there has only ever been 450 female MPs in total, less than the number of male MPs currently sitting in the Commons. Over the course of their careers, women will earn £360,00 less than men on average.

WE stands for 6 key objectives: equal representation in politics and business, equal representation in education, equal pay, equal treatment of women in the media, equal parenting rights, and an end to violence against women. Uniquely for the UK, this pressure group won’t be standing on the sidelines of politics, but actively campaigning for seats in parliament.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, says: “We want all political parties to have gender equality at the heart of their agenda. But WE could be important because of the influence they could play. They could effectively get the other parties to raise their game. They could be an added lever, an added driver.”

A spokesperson for WE says: “What we want to do is similar to what UKIP have done on immigration. They have raised the profile of the issue, and put other political parties under pressure.”

Parties in other countries have attempted something similar. Amongst the top 10 countries for equal opportunities across the world, Sweden, Iceland and the Philippines have a party with gender equality at its heart.

Swedish party the Feminist Initiative (FI) formed in 2005. Following its first campaign in 2006 it achieved less than 1% of the vote. Its success 8 years on is impressive: in 2014 it became the first feminist party to get a seat in the European parliament.

Much of the success of the party has been credited to its charismatic leader Gudrun Schyman. She has captured the publics' imaginations by way of eye-catching acts, such as setting wads of money on fire in 2010 to illustrate the pay gap. Similarly, for WE, Sandy Toksvig is an engaging and recognized TV celebrity.

In April 2015 Norway launched its own Feminist party, hoping to achieve similar successes to the Swedish party. The FI now reports links with groups in Poland, Germany, Spain and France. In the Philippines the party Gabriela (General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms) supports women’s issues. The party was founded in 1984 and has won 2 seats in parliament since 2007.

In May this year, New York also launched its own Women’s Equality Party with more than 50,000 members. The party is in its infancy, but their mission statement is to “dramatically reshape politics in New York”.

What is clear is the need for WE to acknowledge the length of time it has taken for the FI to gain traction – it took 9 years before the party won a single European seat. The political voting systems across Europe are also different. The UK’s first-past-the-post system makes it far harder to gain seats, despite wide support. UKIP only gained 1 seat in the 2015 election, despite nearly 4 million votes. If the UK had a system of proportional representation, that would have translated into a staggering 83 seats for UKIP.

It seems that, across the world, feminist parties are exploding onto the scene. What is less clear is whether a UK party can win enough votes to really put pressure on the major political players. Other countries have achieved it though, and those countries correlate with a narrower gender gap. WE have already been in talks with Scandinavian feminist groups to share ideas.

If they do manage to make big changes quickly, they will be achieving what no other gender equality party has achieved before. For women, the clock has been ticking for nearly one hundred and fifty years on this issue. It really is time for slow change to become rapid change, and WE could make this happen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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