My First Women’s Equality Party Conference
Fiona Heseltine, Data Manager
This year’s Women’s Equality Party conference, 7th – 9th September 2018, was my first political conference and it was one I will never forget.
Starting on Friday evening, the conference opened with an introduction, a celebration and a drink. Unfortunately, I missed all of this, as it was time for Bramble, my baby, to go to bed.
Saturday started early for me as my son had me up at 5.30am. The venue didn’t open till 8.30am so we kept busy with one of us having a nap. After registration I dropped Bramble off at the free child care provided at the venue and headed to the first event – Vamps Victims and Feminazis. Rob Berkeley (Co-editor of BlackOut UK), Catherine Mayer (Co-founder and President of the Women’s Equality Party), Athena Stevens (Equality in the Media Spokesperson for WEP and founder of Aegis Productions) and Yvonne Thompson (WEP Executive Committee Member) discussed equal representation in the media. They led a conversation around the prevalence of older white men in the media, and the danger of the one-dimensional output that produces. They put the argument forward that increased representation of women and minorities within the media can make a huge difference, and that creating our own WE media platform would have a positive impact on shaping a more inclusive conversation and representing wider society.
Next, Big Data: Will Technology Fix Inequality or Deepen It? Seyi Akiwowo (Founder and Director of Glitch!UK), Kate Delvin (Writer and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London), Catherine Mayer, Karen Salt (Director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights at the University of Nottingham) and Audrey Tang (Digital Minister of Taiwan via video link) discussed how data driven technology is transforming the world and how skewed data can drive inequality. It took me a while to understand this discussion but after a while the meaning became obvious - if you build new technology based on skewed data then your tech isn’t going to be inclusive. For example, Fitbit gather interesting customer data, but that data is not representative of all people as it is only collected from people who can afford/know how to use/use accurately/want to own a Fitbit. So the technology created, based on that flawed data, is pronominally going to benefit that narrow, privileged group.
Two hours away from my baby was long enough, so I collected him from childcare and navigated the rest of the conference with him. Although I had to duck out of presentations if he was being too noisy, having him with me at the conference was great.
The Northern Hub meet up, led by Caroline Hunt (WEP Northern Hub Coordinator) was next, and a fantastic chance for us to discuss issues that affect the branches in the North (e.g. The Northern Powerhouse initiative and gender pay gap worst offenders in the north).
Everyone attended the leader’s speech by Sophie Walker and, as you might expect, she was very inspiring. Unfortunately, this was one of the moments that my son was being noisy, so I left before the end. Luckily, you can watch the whole speech here.
My next stop, ‘Parity Begins at Home’ with Giselle Cory (Data Scientist and Public Policy Analyst), Halla Gunnarsdottir (Special Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, Iceland), Dr Tracey Jensen (Lecturer at Lancaster University) and Dr Victoria Showunmi (Senior Lecturer at Maynooth University and UCL Institute of Education) explored the lack of progress in achieving equal childcare and how it is impossible to achieve equality in the workplace if we still don’t have it at home. Having recently had a child myself, I was very interested and staggered by the differences in parity around the world.
Halla Gunnarsdottir had chosen to move back to Iceland when she decided to start a family since Iceland is one of the top 10 countries for parental leave. As a couple, Hella and her partner were able to make the choice of splitting their parental leave straight down the middle. New moms get three months, new dads get three months, and then it's up to the couple to decide how they'll split the remaining three months. Neither parent can transfer any portion of their three-month chunk, however, as the government wants to ensure both parents can work and that kids get to spend time with both. Each parent receives 80% of their salary while on leave.
This is in stark contrast to the situation in the UK, where paternity leave is only two weeks, with any extra time dependant on the mother sharing her maternity leave allowance, something which only an estimated 2% of fathers have chosen to do. WE are fighting for equal paid leave for both parents to ensure that the pressure on women’s careers is alleviated (a Swedish study found that for every month of leave taken by men in the first year, the woman’s long-term salary was 6.7% higher) and partners can enjoy sharing the parenting, something I think is an imperative to achieving equality.
Saturday’s final segment ‘Turn Off the Red Light’ by Mia de Faoite (Activist at End Demand UK/HLFG Ireland) allowed important personal experience of the sex industry to be shared. It was very emotional and, at times, difficult to listen to, but I felt it was extremely important that this experience was shared and heard. The theme on how to end demand for sex workers has particular relevance to our branch, as Leeds is home to the only managed prostitution zone in the UK, and it is clear there is much work to be done on the impact the managed zone has on sex workers and local residents.
I had to call it a day at that point as Bramble needed to go to bed, but I was sad to miss Rebecca Lammers (WEP) talk The Power of Saying No, and of course the WE FUNdraiser comedy night.
Sunday was an even earlier start for me (4.30am!) and a day of party business involving motions and voting. Each motion was put forward and anyone who wanted to talk, either in favour or against, could put their name forward - this gave everyone a chance to voice their opinion. Once everyone who put their name forward had spoken on the motion, there was a vote and the motion were either passed, fell, or referred back if more work was required on the specifics. It took me a while to understand what was happening, which is no doubt in part due to the fact that I hadn’t read all of the motions. Everyone was very helpful though and I got the hang of things quickly and started to vote. You could dip in and out, listening and voting on the motions that meant the most to you.
We left at 2pm to coincide with nap time, and to allow us to get home in time for a little play time with Daddy before bed. If you missed the conference this year, I urge you to attend the next one. I left the conference feeling inspired and motivated, there is still so much to do, and I have met so many brilliant people who are working to do it. This weekend confirmed what I already knew, that the Women’s Equality Party represent my politics and the kind of society I am interested in being a part of, an equal society.