23 October 2015

Women’s equality advocates can’t afford to ignore political economy


In a week where gender equality is high on the news agenda, we must ensure that we keep political economy and socio-economic status central to the discussion of women’s representation and equality. The gender pay gap is valued at £245 billion. Nearly half a century since the Equal Pay Act was passed, women continue to be paid less than men.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) showed that female managers earn just 78p for every £1 that their male counterparts take home. New research showed that gender equality is a powerful driver of corporate reputation, with reputation advisors suggesting that ‘the smartest companies will keep track of this rapidly changing movement and have a voice in the conversation’.

The launch of the first policy document of the Women’s Equality Party (WE) was widely celebrated this week, along with their claim that we could have equal representation of men and women in Westminster within the next decade. I am a passionate supporter of equal representation in parliament, championing the cause for several years through party and cross-party campaigns. Although I welcome WE’s commitment to raising the profile of the issue, I find much of their work problematic.

One main problem is that they refuse to comment on issues outside the remit “to bring equality for women”. Herein lies my main frustration with the WE initiative, as women’s issues are not isolated to a defined remit. Political economy is one of the topics apparently beyond the scope of their work, even though it is inherently connected to several core issues that directly affect and influence women’s social, economic and political equality. Socioeconomic issues are inherently gendered; therefore ignoring them in a political discussion of women’s representation significantly limits the debate.

I wholeheartedly welcome those previously disengaged women that were brought into the political discussion by the launch of WE, and applaud those who are inspired to get involved, to stand for election and to champion the cause. However, I don’t believe that these women should be isolated to one party with one agenda. Although topics such as sexual violence and domestic abuse, amongst others they champion, are incredibly important I believe that all political and social issues should be considered as those within the remit “to bring equality to women”.

All parties should hold conversation around initiatives to empower and educate women (and men) about their role in politics. Women’s representation and equality should not be subjected to its own party. This is similar to my frustration with the Green Party. Is it not time that women and environmental issues are embroiled into policy formulation by all parties?

More women MPs leads to better politics. A more representative parliament leads to better politics. I would imagine that most women know this; it is time to widen the discussion to those who aren’t already on board. Women’s rights should not be subjected to one side of the political spectrum. Equally, they should not be isolated to one party.

Although I don’t agree with some of the aspects of WE, I celebrate the discussion they have broadened and the light they have shed on the historic underrepresentation of women in this country. The Founder of the WE, Sandi Toksvig has said she hoped that the party could disband by 2020, given that the job is done by then. She said: “So, the equal pay legislation works, there’s no violence against women, I feel like my daughters are being heard and the jobs they do are being remunerated at the same rate. Seriously, the ultimate aim of the party is not to have to do this job”.

This week a commentary emerged around gender inequality in the film industry, part of the wider discussion of women’s rights in the 21st century. Even Bradley Cooper has joined the fight with Jennifer Lawrence to force employers in the film industry to pay men and women equally. He advocates transparent disclosure of gender pay gaps, part of a series of high profile individuals publically condemning the differences in men and women’s pay including Patricia Arquette in her Oscars’ speech.

There is a momentum building around the modern suffragettes who are continuing the work of the inspirational women featured in the recently released Suffragette film. I was thrilled to see Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep take on some the most iconic roles as Emmeline Pankhurst and some of the other individuals who led the women’s suffrage movement.

At the film premiere of Suffragette, Carey Mulligan demonstrated support for 50:50 Parliament, an inclusive cross-party movement campaigning for the principle of better gender balance in Parliament. 50:50 Parliament is fighting for debate and action in Westminster to ensure we achieve a more equal representation of men and women in politics. At the time of writing, the 50:50 petition has amassed over 35,000 signatures.

Let us continue to debate, discuss and drive action to ensure the political, social and economic equality of women in this country, and around the world.

Emily Revess is a Campaign Coordinator for 50:50 Parliament, Director of Conservative Future Women and an MSc student at LSE. She is also an Ambassador for the Red Light Campaign and UK Ambassador for One Young World.