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An Insight Into The Women’s Equality Party

IMG_4817.JPG

Another tumultuous year roles by alongside the political fall out of Brexit and the continued instability of the current government. The #MeToo movement, and the increasingly popularised participation in activism, has led to an unprecedented rise in awareness surrounding Feminism. Yet there is one group of women that has looked further than the power of the Internet, taking the fractured system head on. For the last three years, the Women’s Equality Party has been working tirelessly to fight for a place in parliament, to address the issues still affecting women today. Co-founded by Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig in 2015, the WEP has steadily been gaining influence and expanding their membership. With seven candidates in the 2017 General Election, it’s clear the WEP is driven by a strong ambition for women’s place in the future.

For the WEP, “equality means better politics, a more vibrant economy, a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population and a society at ease with itself”. It’s for this reason that the party focuses on equal representation and pay in politics, and throughout working life, equal caregiving, an education system that creates opportunities for children, equal health, and an end to violence against women. In doing so, the party hopes to create a better future for everyone, regardless of gender, hoping to fix the fractured gender relations that are embedded in our society.

After the original Brighton branch was split into four, the WEP Brighton has been recruiting more members in the lead up to the local elections. Brighton Branch Leader Bev Barstow, the WEP’s candidate for the Hanover elections, spoke to The Badger about her move into politics around 7 months ago.

“The “trigger” to join, and usually there is a trigger, was the “Me Too” movement, John Worboys potential release, the sex pay gap and the fact that 2018 is the suffragette centenary. I realised that although it was 100 years ago that some women got the vote, there was still a long way to go before full equality between the sexes could be achieved.”

“Whilst all women may be able to vote, we are not equally represented in Parliament. You either have equality or you don’t, you don’t just have a bit of it. I also read some figures on violence against women by men and I was, and still am, outraged by them… and statistics are usually the tip of the iceberg. Women and girls are being let down by the State when it comes to providing a safe, harassment free, violence free society. The result of inequality is the cause of sexual violence. It has become structurally and culturally embedded in our society, and it has to stop. I felt I had to get involved in the WEP because it’s the only political party in the UK that has a clear feminist focus with clear feminist policies”.

You either have equality or you don’t, you don’t just have a bit of it.

Bev’s background in sociology and strong interest in feminist politics has made a huge impact on her political views. “Sociology gives an individual the analytical tools by which to understand social structures and human agency, to think critically, and to evidence arguments. Feminism gives me a very different political and ideological perspective. Once you start thinking from a feminist perspective and about women’s equality and why it doesn’t exist, the world looks quite different, it’s about being ‘awake’”.

Whilst Bev’s reference to staying ‘woke’, now a common phrase in our repertoire, reveals the public drive towards self-education, the party relies on a small number of volunteers to help the party become part of the conversation. “Social media enables us to communicate easily with branch members, between branches etc., and to find news items of relevance, and for us to reach our public audience in seconds”. The Internet has become the largest resource available to growing political parties, providing easy access to their ever-growing pool of members.

Despite the party’s quick growth, the WEP have struggled to secure seats, and electorate votes have failed to bring about political representation. The party has received some backlash from other parties hoping to put forward their own female representatives. For Bev, “the biggest challenge is to get the electorate to vote WEP so we can have a fresh feminist focus on gender equality within the Council. A few comments have been made along the lines of splitting the vote, by that I assume the Labour or Green vote, but that makes a wrong assumption that these candidates have already won, which only adds to the complacency they have in the first place. The electorate owns the vote, and they can do what they like with it. Hanover is a three-candidate ward, so we ask that people give us a chance and vote for Labour or Green but to cast one of their votes for WEP to elect the first WEP candidate in the country. Now that would be something to be proud of!”

It was a brave move to split and allow the new branches to organically grow and be more localised

It’s clear that Bev has big plans for the future, represented in the recent split of the Brighton branch into Brighton, Hove and Lewes. Bev tells us, “the idea is to grow the Party by growing branches. The split occurred because the Brighton Branch became very large and it was the right time to branch off and rekindle new branches. Also members were scattered in the areas you mentioned. It was a brave move to split and allow the new branches to organically grow and be more localised”. Still working closely with other branches, particularly Hove and Portslade, the team hope to work together to achieve their aims.

“There are many pressing issues and all fall within our 7 policy areas. The top two for me are:

  1. To have equal representation in positions of influence and decision-making (local council, House of Commons, EU). It is important to get women elected to influential positions in order to create a positive culture of equality within our society, to ensure equal representation between the sexes at the point of decision-making. The importance of this is to give women a voice, and to get women’s lives and experiences on the political agenda so that changes can be affected. At the moment, only 32% of elected MP’s are women, it should be 50-50. Female MEPS are about 37% in the EU, so not much improvement there either. Unfortunately men don’t represent women’s issues, or think about them, or think about how cuts in services as a result in “austerity” disproportionally impacts on women’s lives. Lack of women’s representation has created a male status quo, a culture of masculinity and the norm that men should be in positions of power, and it becomes a cycle.
  2. Violence against women is the most pressing issue. The statistics are appalling.  Violence against women and girls exists because we don’t have equality. The Government’s Equality Committee has 3 pieces of research that show how extensive this is, and how vast numbers of women and girls have been sexually harassed at work, at school, and in public places. Porn is now being routinely watched by men and boys on phones on buses, at work, and in school. That’s not creating a safe environment for women and girls in which to flourish. We live in a culture of male violence, and victim blaming. The tide has to turn”.

Suzanne Triviere, a Founding Member of the WEP, and the current co-Data Manager, spoke to us about her move into politics, and the impact of the party on her life.

“I have been with the WEP since the beginning and early on joined the Brighton Branch (July 2015); I was inspired by the WEP’s focus on women’s inequality as I felt none of the mainstream parties had much interest at all in some of the challenges facing women, and indeed social structures STILL to this day work against women’s equality especially in media representation, sport, politics; this I find quite extraordinary in 2018 (I remember my mum’s own feminist perspectives from the 1970s with the second wave of feminist action). Brighton has always had a very active women’s movement, and I know my mum would be disappointed that though equality is talked about, social structures still struggle to shift and change to accommodate women”.

The structures that reinstate the gender divide, seen in the political system and the media, continue to fracture our society. The mainstream media gives little airtime to women’s issues, and the female voice is continually marred. “Sophie Walker has worked tirelessly to break into mainstream politics, and has certainly been successful in getting women’s voices heard more; however, this is where the system is stacked against women (and others). I have heard it said that mainstream media is refusing to give Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn, much exposure, and the same is true of women’s issues generally. The reasons are complex, so the challenge is to get ourselves into the arena of public debate – it is still very much a closed shop. If we can’t get exposure through mainstream media, we have to go out to the people – this takes time and manpower.”

“In Brighton growing our branch is our target and goal; with supporters and volunteers we can go door to door and talk to people about why (in the first instance) it makes sense to get a WEP rep onto the council. Having said that, we have the brilliant Caroline Lucas representing Brighton in parliament but as she noted in the last budget, almost no money was given over to environmental challenges currently facing our world; even once we have broken in getting voices heard and making change happen is an uphill battle. I try not to think about it as it becomes rather depressing!!!!”

Suzanne’s work with the Survivor’s Network in Brighton, Age UK and The Girls Network, as well as being the Chair of the Board for the Tarner Community Project, dominates much of her time. Trying to strike a balance between politics, work and volunteering is just one of the realities affecting women who want to bring about change, especially someone working as much as Suzanne.

“After leaving teaching I was keen to grow a portfolio of work that suited my values and interests and allowed me to work when I want. This I have achieved! WEP could take up all my time, but the Exec are great at collaboration and team work, and we tag in and out depending on our other commitments; it is a new way of working for me, but I am enjoying all the new skills I am acquiring! I loved my teaching career but was definitely ready to work in a more flexible and free way”.

Institutional sexism has led to the ‘boys club’ attitude that still governs the political system, and has been evident as #MeToo stories come to light

This background in teaching has inspired her desire to change the male dominated status quo, which begins right from childhood. The ‘lad culture’ of male party politics is one that has dominated the press recently, after party leader Sophie Walker spoke about the proliferation of magazines such as Nuts and Zoo during the 80s. Such institutional sexism has led to the ‘boys club’ attitude that still governs the political system, and has been evident as #MeToo stories come to light. For those daunted by this ‘exclusive’ aspect of politics, Bev says, “don’t over think it and just throw yourself in. Don’t question your ability just believe in yourself. Be fair and respectful, but most of all, be confident. Stay focussed and think big”.

Within the current political climate, it is impossible to ignore the question of Brexit, and whether there should be a second referendum. Sophie Walker pointed out the way in which Brexit left out women from the debate at the Women’s Equality Party conference in September, prompting discussion about what Brexit means for women socially and politically after the changes are implemented.

Bev says that the “Brexit discourse was between men in the UK and men in Europe. The impact of Brexit on women was not considered. Whether staying in the EU or leaving the EU, women as a class are not fully considered in either political system, yet women are the ones who disproportionately bear the brunt of cuts in education, health, benefits, housing issues. Women are more likely to live in poverty because of the gender pay gap, and female pensioners are living in poverty because of this. Sophie has said that the Party will campaign for a “people’s vote” and further, to get feminist politics on the European agenda”.

For Suzanne, who proclaims to be “European in sensibility”, the question of a second referendum is at the forefront of political debate the moment, and must be addressed. “My father is Belgian, my step-mother is Dutch; my sister is married to a French man and lives in France; my daughter has lived in Lisbon and Berlin; I went to school in France for three years when I was a child!!!) So it’s very personal! I believe Cameron’s initial referendum was naïve, both in terms of what it asked, and how it was constructed; and I believe too many voices driving the campaigns lacked integrity, honesty and transparency. I am still blown away that Rees-Mogg’s fortune has been moved to Ireland to protect his assets while the rest of us grow poorer every day. I don’t subscribe to the ‘people have voted’ line when they 1) were lied to 2) were asked the wrong question 3) didn’t know what they were voting for – no one did”.

I believe Cameron’s initial referendum was naïve, both in terms of what it asked, and how it was constructed; and I believe too many voices driving the campaigns lacked integrity, honesty and transparency

The WEP attempts to forge a path for discussion surrounding issues such as these, which are often left out of the feminist debate. Whilst the WEP aims to represent all equally, the party has come under criticism for not being diverse enough, reflecting the whitewashing of feminism. Bev wants to move away from this image, stating that the “WEP is open to everyone, anyone who wants to join. We even have an affiliate membership to allow members of other political parties to join us whilst being in another political party. We want our membership to be diverse, to be representative of British society, to have members from different classes, religions, cultures. Everyone is welcome to get involved. I am aware that western feminism has been seen to be a white middle class movement; I think that is a bit of a stereotype put forward by a negative media. Intersectional feminism has been around for decades, and it really interacts with marginal sections of society in terms of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, etc., and WEP embraces intersectional feminism wholeheartedly”.

Suzanne recognises that this is something they need to work on, believing the party is “at a crossroads”. Both the BAME and Trans community believe there is more to be done in the WEP to represent their concerns, which Suzanne hopes to embrace in the future, and is currently working towards.

These people are working too hard to keep their heads above water to have the time to come to us – we need to go to them to show them that we can make a difference for them

“It has been consistently criticised for being the ‘women’s’ equality party, while also suggesting that ‘equality is better for everyone’ and these are definitely two different things I think we have also demonstrated this with a rather narrow representation in the current Branch. In Brighton we have a big LGBT demographic but our BAME demographic is smaller. We are very aware that we need to reach out to a broader audience – again, having the volunteers on the ground to talk to people is the way forward. These people are working too hard to keep their heads above water to have the time to come to us – we need to go to them to show them that we can make a difference for them”.

As female politicians part of the job description includes dealing with the daily abuse and criticism that comes hand in hand with female power. Suzanne says that she tries not to take it personally.

“People are absolutely entitled to their opinions; sometimes they can be expressed in unfortunate ways, but I respect their right to think differently. We recently posted on our Facebook site an article which gained a lot of negative attention and comments and we really wrestled with whether or not to take it down, but I truly believe that people show their true colours if they are allowed to speak for themselves and in the end such nastiness says more about them than me, I roll on. Grow a thick skin – you will face challenge every day and it can feel very personal”.

For others, she advices to be “clear of your values and your motives – why do you want to be here – that will help you push through the difficult times. Be realistic – it’s really hard to get change to happen – and get creative – we can disrupt mainstream politics by stealth and innovation, not by trying to play their game (and sadly it is a bit of a game so develop a really good sense of humour!). Make time for yourself – or you will burn out – this is most important.”

The resilience of these hard-working women only serves to demonstrate the strength of their vision for women’s future. For students, volunteer roles provided by the WEP would open up possibilities in politics and activism that would be crucial to their futures. Both Bev and Suzanne hope to encourage students to partake in the WEP, saying, “there’s lots to do and lots of roles you can fill as a student, and the roles you perform in the Party can always be translated into skills that could easily be put on a CV. I would say come along to a meeting or drop us an email. We need you”.

There’s lots to do and lots of roles you can fill as a student, and the roles you perform in the Party can always be translated into skills that could easily be put on a CV

“Students are as busy as everyone else, but I still believe that the ‘personal is political’ and therefore every day we come up against systems and structures that keep us quiet… so I guess I would say 1) Figure out what really matters to you 2) figure out where your unconscious biases lie (we all have them!!!) 3) challenge everyday sexism and racism and every other ‘ism’ whenever they are in front of you 4) start looking around at what is presented to you as ‘normal’ and interrogate that ‘normal’ – why is it this way? 5) Get involved, go to a meeting or event with friends, meet and talk with lots of different people, and then commit a small amount of time to one small change you want to happen. No one can change the world on their own – but, for example, if every person in Brighton had their own reusable coffee cup and bottle think what a difference we could make – tiny changes can have a huge impact – it’s the power of the people in action!”

After their stall in the Falmer Square market, the WEP encouraged any students interested in getting involved to contact them directly, with many volunteer roles available. With the Hanover elections round the corner, it is the tireless work of volunteers and staff that make campaigns happen, of which you could be a part.

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University of Sussex Joins Libraries Week

Kate Dennett - October 6, 2018

This coming week marks the celebration of Libraries Week, an event solely dedicated to praising the work of libraries across the UK. This annual event is taking…

Oscar Jerome at The Hope and Ruin
Interview
1368 views
Interview
1368 views

Oscar Jerome at The Hope and Ruin

Alex Leissle - October 4, 2018

The young star is often a tricky title to navigate. There are the big names, who explode into the world with noise, bright light, a big record…

How Fenty Beauty changed the face of the makeup industry
Lifestyle
2315 views
Lifestyle
2315 views

How Fenty Beauty changed the face of the makeup industry

Rachel Badham - October 3, 2018

Fenty Beauty, launched in September last year, is a makeup line created by global superstar Robyn Rihanna Fenty, better known as Rihanna. It’s not uncommon for celebrity…

Why we should all embrace drag
Features
1587 views
Features
1587 views

Why we should all embrace drag

Chris Ahjem - October 3, 2018

Once an art form disregarded by many, 2018 bears witness to the continuous rise of drag as a legitimate, celebrated art. Spearheaded by RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag…

In Conversation with Alannah Myles
Arts
3949 views
Arts
3949 views

In Conversation with Alannah Myles

Anastasia Konstantinidou - October 3, 2018

This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Alannah Myles, the 1991 Grammy winner for best female rock vocal performance for her outstanding vocal abilities for the…

Brighton Needs You!
News
1394 views
News
1394 views

Brighton Needs You!

Anonymous - September 28, 2018

Brighton is a vibrant and thriving city that many students at Sussex are lucky enough to call home. But there are many in the area in need…

Books Every Fresher Should Read
Arts
1504 views
Arts
1504 views

Books Every Fresher Should Read

Anonymous - September 19, 2018

Starting university comes with both exciting but potentially daunting changes, with both moving away from home and studying at degree level posing to be two new challenges.…

INCREDIBLES 2: The Sequel with a Feminist Twist
Film & Theatre
1351 views
Film & Theatre
1351 views

INCREDIBLES 2: The Sequel with a Feminist Twist

Olek Młyński - September 18, 2018

One key film in the development of anyone who grew up in the early 2000s was The Incredibles (2004). It’s comedy, vibrancy, and general sense of fun…

France in Fine Fettle
Sports
1260 views
Sports
1260 views

France in Fine Fettle

Anonymous - September 17, 2018

Prior to the start of the quadrennial tournament this summer, football fans across the world grew sceptical over Russia’s credentials and ability to host the most prestigious…

Dive into Brightonian Culture
Arts
1414 views
Arts
1414 views

Dive into Brightonian Culture

Sorrel Linsley - September 17, 2018

Boredom is impossible when you throw yourself into everything this weird and wonderful city has to offer. The specific and unique cultural wonders of Brighton are indeed…

Oh, baby, baby, did you see Britney at Pride?
Arts
1483 views
Arts
1483 views

Oh, baby, baby, did you see Britney at Pride?

Anastasia Konstantinidou - September 15, 2018

During this year’s Pride Festival, Brighton had the honour of welcoming international pop star and voice of the early 2000s, Britney Spears, to the main stage. Undoubtedly,…

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
3529 views1
Campus News
3529 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Written by the News Team. Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for…

Extinction Rebellion protests banned by police
News
62 views
News
62 views

Extinction Rebellion protests banned by police

Becca Bashford - October 16, 2019

Becca Bashford, News Editor.  The Metropolitan Police have issued a statement ordering all Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London…

1sts BUCS Match Reports
Sports
536 views
Sports
536 views

1sts BUCS Match Reports

James Cohen - October 13, 2019

By Jonny Garwood This year the Badger are aiming to provide a new platform for student sport societies to celebrate their individual or group achievements once a…

Review: BROCKHAMPTON’s Ginger
Arts
165 views
Arts
165 views

Review: BROCKHAMPTON’s Ginger

kajaldave4801 - October 10, 2019

Released earlier this summer, BROCKHAMPTON followed 2018’s ‘Iridescence’ with their fifth studio album ‘Ginger’. Since Iridescence, the self-proclaimed greatest boyband since one direction has faced chaos and…

Oliver’s Brighton: Two years on
News
74 views
News
74 views

Oliver’s Brighton: Two years on

Becca Bashford - October 10, 2019

  “There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments […], windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of…

Two new student-led campaigns join the SU
News
124 views
News
124 views

Two new student-led campaigns join the SU

Becca Bashford - October 10, 2019

  In the lead-up to the Change Sussex Forum taking place in the Research Centre on October 22, The Badger provides the low down on the Students’…

Vegan Activists Disrupt Brighton
News
151 views
News
151 views

Vegan Activists Disrupt Brighton

Becca Bashford - October 10, 2019

  By Becca Bashford, News Editor. Vegan activists have been targeting supermarkets and corporations that profit from the sale of animal products, using a radical yet entirely…

Free Wednesdays Volunteer Scheme
News
60 views
News
60 views

Free Wednesdays Volunteer Scheme

Jessica Hubbard - October 10, 2019

Free Wednesdays, a student volunteer scheme which offers free sanitary and sexual health products to Sussex students, need your help. Launched in 2015 by Rianna Gargulio, Sussex…

Brighton buses become the first in the UK to run in zero emission mode
News
72 views
News
72 views

Brighton buses become the first in the UK to run in zero emission mode

Becca Bashford - October 10, 2019

  By Alana Harris, Staff Writer This October, the UK’s first zero emission buses - The Enviro400Er’s - will debut in Brighton & Hove. Brighton and Hove…

Sussex graduate wins UK Dyson Award
News
73 views
News
73 views

Sussex graduate wins UK Dyson Award

Becca Bashford - October 10, 2019

  By Alana Harris, Staff Writer. Lucy Hughes, a University of Sussex product design graduate, won this year’s prestigious James Dyson Award for her innovative plastic alternative.…

Meet the local feminist collective fighting against sexual assault at gigs
News
96 views
News
96 views

Meet the local feminist collective fighting against sexual assault at gigs

Becca Bashford - October 10, 2019

Becca Bashford, The Badger's News Editor, chats with Girls Against founder Bea Bennister about the problem of sexual assault and harassment that is plaguing the music industry.  Run by…

Should we still listen to Michael Jackson’s music?
Comment
127 views
Comment
127 views

Should we still listen to Michael Jackson’s music?

Rebecca Spencer - October 9, 2019

YES Alice Gledhill Sometimes, bad people create great things. This does not redeem them, but nor does it reduce the quality of their art. Michael Jackson, who…

Brighton: If you haven’t got the means,  is it the ends?
Brighton Festival
230 views
Brighton Festival
230 views

Brighton: If you haven’t got the means, is it the ends?

Rebecca Spencer - October 9, 2019

In this article Comment Editor Rebecca Spencer and Comment Sub-Editor Louis Johnson discuss their perspectives of living in Brighton. Rebecca having moved here in 2017 and Louis,…

Could Brexit become the start of a left-wing national revolution?
Comment
214 views
Comment
214 views

Could Brexit become the start of a left-wing national revolution?

Remel Crichlow - October 9, 2019

YES Luke Schofield The short answer is, yes. However this is an answer in two parts; what has already happened in party politics in the wake of…

Is the UK ready to legalise cannabis?
Comment
71 views
Comment
71 views

Is the UK ready to legalise cannabis?

Rebecca Spencer - October 9, 2019

YES Max Morris-Edwards The idea that cannabis should be legalised for recreational use is rapidly growing in popularity across the UK. Cannabis is indeed the most used…

Books
56 views

A note on graphic novels: A guide to some of the best graphic novels on the market now

imeldaloakes - October 9, 2019

The term ‘graphic novel’ has, for a long time, been used loosely around the fringes of the literary society. While in the world of comics certain graphic…

Is music journalism a total minefield?
Brighton Festival
171 views
Brighton Festival
171 views

Is music journalism a total minefield?

Rebecca Spencer - October 9, 2019

By Stella Cooper My friends are still sharing videos, no matter how messy, of pure summer festival carnage. Whether that’s in the shape of music, or campsite…

Is America ready for a progressive candidate?
Comment
58 views
Comment
58 views

Is America ready for a progressive candidate?

rgs24 - October 9, 2019

By Maritsa Tsioupra-Lewis On September 12th in Houston, Texas, the third Democratic debate commenced. With too-many-to-count candidates originally running in the Democratic primary, the group was dwindled…

The Un-United Kingdom: Scotland’s Brexit woes
Comment
59 views
Comment
59 views

The Un-United Kingdom: Scotland’s Brexit woes

rgs24 - October 9, 2019

By Louis Johnson The Brexit deadline is looming and as Britain prepares to leave the EU, ‘deal or no deal’, it looks as though our Union is…

Should you refuse the zoos?
Comment
71 views
Comment
71 views

Should you refuse the zoos?

rgs24 - October 9, 2019

By Leo Hodges Conservation is an immensely complex process and more often than not zoos and animal-loving customers are the problem. Zoo’s exploit conservation, education and research…

Books
52 views

‘The Goldfinch’: are some novels best left untouched?

imeldaloakes - October 9, 2019

First published in 2013, Donna Tartt’s epic coming-of-age novel has attracted a large literary following. The Goldfinch was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014 and…