Voting on 7th May will be the most feminist thing you will do this year.
It’s hard to muster up some enthusiasm to vote in an election that sees the race, once again, being fought by three middle-class white men of varyingly privileged backgrounds. In itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing, providing we can trust the aforementioned three to represent all of us, including women. Now, I don’t know about anyone else but I am yet to recover from the horror of watching my Prime Minister tell a female Member of Parliament to ‘calm down dear’. That was four years ago, and whilst these days David Cameron may be a smidge more media savvy and perhaps a trifle more aware of the issues relating to gender equality (in that he knows when and how to drop key terms into televised conversation), I think it’s fair to say that, overall, little has changed since then. Today, as I type this, there are currently 148 female MPs in the House of Commons, constituting a dismal percentage of just 22.7% of all MPs. Hang on, let’s just pause on that for a minute:
We are 50% of the population and we constitute less than 25% of our elected representatives.
Half the people, not even one quarter of our representatives.
I don’t know about you, but I call serious bullshit. But then again, when your Prime Minister cannot even treat you as an equal in your place of work, is it any wonder that more women aren’t chewing at the bit to enter that most brutal – and mostly male – world of politics?
To be fair to D-Cam, it’s not much better on the other side of the ideological pendulum. Should you dare to cast a glance across the floor of the chamber you will find one party who thinks it is okay to try and appeal to the female population by touring Britain in a bright pink bus; the other is led by an MP who, a few months ago, hopped aboard a bandwagon when he donned a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt – unfortunately, the seemingly newfound feminism lived and died in a day. Perhaps the slogan came out in the wash. Whatever. Suffice to say that not one of the main three has done a jot to fill me with confidence that maybe, just maybe, they will break with tradition and – dare I say it – put women’s rights at the top of their agenda. Or even on the damn agenda.
Since the dawn of the Lib-Con era back in 2010, things haven’t exactly been great for women and there have been countless analyses that have pointed to the gendered inequality of the so called ‘austerity measures’* (*euphemism of the decade!). As early as 2012 the Fawcett Society published a report entitled The Impact of Austerity on Women where they highlighted that women in Britain were in fact facing a ‘triple jeopardy’; i.e. were ‘being hit in three key ways a result of the deficit reduction measures’:
Women are being hit hardest by cuts to public sector jobs, wages and pensions
Women are being hit hardest as the services and benefits they use more are cut
Women will be left ‘filling the gaps’ as state services are withdrawn
Do a quick Google search using the words “women” and “austerity” and you’ll see that general opinion is that little has changed since the Fawcett report of three years ago. But, austerity aside, if you still aren’t convinced that an inherent and entrenched gender inequality exists in this country, just look at statistics:
1. In the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, the UK fell out of the top 20 most gender-equal countries in the world for the first time after average wages for women in the workplace fell by £2,700 in a year. Between 2006 – 2014, the UK went from 9th to 26th place in world rankings. Furthermore, in that same period, the UK went backwards in each the four key categories used by the WEF to assess gender equality:
Economic participation: from 37th to 46th
Educational attainment: from 1st to 32nd
Health and survival: from 63rd to 94th
Political empowerment: from 12th to 33rd
2. The UK is experiencing a domestic violence crisis. One in four women is abused during their lifetime; one in nine is severely physically abused each year; two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. The numbers speak for themselves. You can sign a petition here to ask the government to step up and do something about it.
3. A 2013 bulletin published by Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office, recorded that approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted every year. 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) have experienced sexual violence since the age of 16. That is 20% of women aged 16 – 59. Next time you’re in a tube carriage with at least 20 women, you can go ahead and assume that four of those women have experienced sexual violence.
4. In 2013, despite the fact that women constituted 42% of the workforce and 55% of university graduates, women were still less likely than men to be associated with leadership positions in the UK: accounting for 22% of MPs and peers, 20% of university professors, 6.1% of FTSE 100 executive positions, and 3% of board chairpersons. So, despite the fact that women are being encouraged to lean in (see Sheryl Sandberg’s awesome book), that silly old glass ceiling just keeps on getting in the damn way.
5. A 2013 report by Girlguiding found that three quarters of the young women surveyed (aged between 11 – 21) said that sexism affected ‘most areas of their lives’. Depressingly, 87% said that women were judged more on their appearance than their ability. These are the women of tomorrow, they deserve better than this.
So, women, can we change this? Of course we can! How?
1. Register to vote and encourage others to do the same. Now. You can do that here.
2. Research. I don’t mean that you have to trawl through the manifestos of every listed party – realistically, most people do not have time to do this and, let’s face it, by the time you have filtered out the jargon and hyperbole, there is very little of substance for those of us who are numb to politic-speak. What you can do in a relatively short space of time is look for the candidates who are putting women on the map; be it through proposed changes to education, employment, the gender pay gap (keystat alert – it’s at 16%), the legal system (keyword alert – rape, sexual harassment & the law), reproductive rights, the rights of rape/sexual abuse/harassment victims, the rights of ethnic minority women, refugee women, LGBT women – whatever the cause, find it, educate yourself about it and support those who are trying to make a change. If you can’t vote for someone because they are not seeking election in your constituency, make sure that those who can vote for them know that they can. Share the hell out of information on social media, make sure everyone in your social media circle is aware of the people (women and men) out there who are trying to make a difference for women. THESE are the people who need your vote. THESE are the people who will shape the future of women – either by their presence, or by their absence, in our next parliament. Don’t know where to start? Contact your nearest women’s centre.
3. Make it your mission to encourage at least one other woman to vote. AT LEAST ONE.
4. Stay informed. When the election is over, women will still have a long way to go in this country, but the more aware we are, the more empowered we are. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
5. Encourage others to get informed, including men. Men need to know this shit too.
Apathy is easy, but it is dangerous. Apathy leads to half arsed elections where people we don’t know take seats in constituencies we can’t even pinpoint on a map. It leads to a chamber of 650 people making decisions on your behalf – and the kicker is you didn’t even get a say in deciding who gets to speak for you. Put it this way, would you buy a house without looking around first? Hire a defence lawyer that you’d never even met? Consent to a medical procedure that you didn’t understand? No? Tell me again why you are happy to let everyone else decide the future of the country you live in, because they voted and you didn’t. One vote might not change the world, but 9.1 million will – and that is how many women who, despite being eligible to vote in the 2010 General Election chose not to go to the ballot box that day. 9.1 million can change an election and can change a country – imagine how different things might have been if those 9.1 million had voted five years ago. Now imagine how different things could be if those 9.1 million took the time to put an ‘x’ in a box on 7th May.
Seriously, it is time we put an end to our perception of politics as the Great Male Game. Ladies, this is our House too – we own half of it, we pay for it with our taxes, we pay for it with the millions of unpaid hours that we work raising children and keeping homes. THIS IS OUR HOUSE TOO. MAKE IT A HOUSE THAT WORKS FOR WOMEN.
One final thing, to celebrate women in politics (both the voters and the candidates) consider wearing an awesome Suffragette sash when you go to cast your vote on 7th May. Just for the hell of it – why the heck not?!