The story so far:
It started as an idea, a shared conversation between an author and a comedian.
It’s grown into a national movement, shaking up the status quo in Westminster and sparking a new approach to politics across the UK
It was a Monday in March, when author and journalist Catherine Mayer found herself at one of those talks on women in politics at the annual Women of the World festival. You know the sort, where you feel yourself getting frustrated at the state of society, wishing you knew how to fix it.
This time, Catherine decided enough was enough. She raised her hand and suggested creating a political party with a laser-like focus on women’s equality.
The next day, she picked up the phone and called comedian Sandi Toksvig for her support. That was the moment she found out Sandi had planned to propose the exact same idea on the festival’s closing night.
And so, WE were born.
Within mere weeks we held first meetings, agreed on a name, set objectives and announced our plans on Facebook (because that’s how we did things in 2015).
Something extraordinary began to happen. Hundreds, and then thousands, of people raised their hands to be a part of it too.
Sophie Walker becomes our founding leader, to guide us through our firsts
Sophie Walker became our first leader in July 2015, chosen unanimously by the party's founders Steering Committee to lead us through our formation phase.
WE soon launched our first policy statement, welcomed our first members and hosted our first party conference in Manchester. Where WE brought hundreds of members to the stage, debating and voting on 22 motions from decriminalising abortion to proportional representation.
Soon, it was time for our first election campaigns.
WE overtake George Galloway in the London Mayoral election
In 2016 WE fielded election candidates in Glasgow, Lothian, South Wales Central and London, with Sophie Walker running for Mayor. Across all 4 areas, WE won 352,322 votes.
In London, Sophie scooped up 5.2% of the vote, beating George Galloway whilst hot on the heels of UKIP’s 6.6%. With the first and second rounds counted, Sophie won the vote of 1 in every 20 people who voted in the London Mayoral election.
“This has been an extraordinary first year. We have four to go until 2020. Equality for women can’t wait. And neither will WE” commented Sophie Walker, after the election results.
Taking gender equality into the national conversation
By the time the 2017 general election rolled around, WE were ready.
WE fielded 6 brilliant candidates who WE continue to be extraordinarily proud of. But it was more than just names on ballot paper, this was about shaking up the political agenda. Showing that women’s issues deserved a place in the national conversation. And making the Government see that their voters were watching.
Our second party conference followed a year later, this time in Kettering. Our delegates passed a massive 24 motions, ranging from the inclusion of video games in our Equality in the Media policy to the party's new position on Brexit.
This included our amendment to the Article 50 bill, which gathered the most cross-party support of all the amendments by highlighting the dangers of Henry VIII powers. Such powers would inevitably enable civil servants to sign away equalities and employment rights without parliamentary scrutiny.
A major push for the Istanbul Convention
2017 also saw a big push for our Istanbul Convention campaign, something WE’d been pushing for since day one.
The convention legally requires the state to take responsibility for ending violence against women and girls whilst actively promoting gender equality.
Fast forward to 2022 and the Istanbul Convention was finally ratified by the UK Government, although it wasn’t quite the celebration WE’d hoped for. An escape clause was added to Article 59, leaving out those with an insecure immigration status.
It’s a key milestone in our story, but there’s still a long way to go.
Getting the attention of Hilary Clinton
Equal Pay Day is the date which marks the moment when women effectively stop being paid relative to men.
In 2018 it was the 10th of November. When the UK gender pay gap stood at 17.9%.
That year, our Out of Office campaign reached new heights, with campaigners able to make it appear as though their social media channels weren’t working to protest unequal pay. The result was shared thousands of times across social media, gathering the support of Bumble, Thinkbox, Mother Pukka and Mumsnet, and even earning a retweet across the Atlantic from Hilary Clinton.
The first council seat (and overtaking the Conservatives)
2019 was when the momentum really started to build. The fantastic Kay Wesley won our first Council seat in Congleton East with 1,250 votes.
In Tunbridge Wells Liz Orr stormed into second place behind the Liberal Democrats, overtaking the Conservatives who previously held the seat and nearly doubling our share of the vote to 25%.
Keeping MPs accused of sexual harassment out of office
That same year, WE stood four incredible candidates, and survivors of male violence, in the general election where the previously elected MPs had unresolved allegations of violence and harassment.
“Women in Luton North deserve better than to be represented by a man who abused his power,” Serena Laidley on standing against an accused MP.
As part of the campaign, the Liberal Democrats agreed to adopt some of our policies, pushing for amendments to the law to give the public the power to out MPs found guilty of harassment.
WE gladly stood aside in two seats to allow the Liberal Democrats to do this. And not a single one of the five MPs accused of violence and harassment held onto their seat. A win on all counts.
Mandu Reid becomes leader of the Women’s Equality Party and the first person of colour to lead a political party in the UK
In 2019, Mandu Reid became interim leader of the party, before being confirmed as party leader in 2020.
“The Women’s Equality Party is needed now - more than ever. The rise of regressive forces in politics, some corners of the media, and wider society threaten to slow or halt progress towards equality.
Our party is a place of political sanctuary for those who are not prepared to accept the status quo. We provide an antidote to the negative and divisive, gutter politics of today.
Under my leadership I will make sure we always focus on what really matters rather than what’s convenient - this will mark us out from other political parties, who time and time again show us their willingness to put self-interest or party tribalism first.
Under my leadership we will hold our nerve, keep the faith, and never lose sight of why we’re doing this. Together we will put positivity and principles back into politics.” - Mandu Reid, on becoming Women’s Equality Party leader.
The party introduces its new Deputy Leaders to WE members
Later that year, WE also introduced our fantastic Deputy Leaders to the party - Christine Dean, Dr Hannah Barham-Brown and Tabitha Morton.
The idea for Deputy Leaders stemmed from Mandu’s experience of working for three consecutive Mayors of London, where the mayor appointed multiple Deputy Mayors to support them in delivering their manifesto. Together, our Deputy Leaders serve and represent the party, help deliver its mission and lead its campaigns. This was a pivotal evolution in our journey.
A sold out party conference
In October 2020, despite global challenges, WE held our third party conference online and saw tickets sell out.
Together, our delegates passed 22 motions, focusing on women in the criminal justice system, statutory funding for women escaping violence, improved care after pregnancy loss, climate action, and more.
Creative campaigning enables us to push for gender equality throughout the pandemic
Nothing stops us campaigning, not even a global pandemic. In 2020 we got creative, taking our campaigns online and finding inventive ways to include activists across the UK
WE marched alone, but together, with over 700 incredible protestors joining #PayProtectProtest during their daily exercise to demand guaranteed PPE and a real living wage for our care workers.
WE homeschooled the Government on the realities of parenting during lockdown.
And WE updated statues across the UK with a message from Sandi Toksvig, to highlight the massive disparity between maximum sentence lengths for damaging a statue (10 years) and the maximum sentence for domestic abuse (5 years).
More election shake ups and our best ever regional results
In May 2021, WE stood in 22 local elections and elected our second town councillor, Amanda Carter-Philpott, in Bletchley and Fenny Stratford. Priya Brown won a fantastic 16% of the vote in Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council.
In November 2021, our phenomenal Deputy Leader, Dr. Hannah Barham-Brown, stood in the North Yorkshire by-election. WE received 10% of the vote delivering our best ever regional election result.
Elevating violence against women and girls to the same status as terrorism
Violence against women and girls impacts more people and takes more lives than terrorism. And yet, the UK has coordinated national departments that focus specifically on terrorism without giving anywhere near the same level of attention to violence against women and girls.
After years of campaigns, press, projecting the measures women take to stay safe onto the Houses of Parliament and amplifying 10,000 women’s experiences of mistreatment by the Met police outside of New Scotland Yard, the Government finally announced that violence against women would get the same status as terrorism exactly one year after the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer.
This will mean increased resources, increased accountability and increased collaboration between forces to actually address ending violence against women and girls.
And whilst this measure alone cannot address the the crisis of violence against women and girls - that will take further fundamental changes to our society, policing and justice systems - this change will make a big difference to women’s lives.
This is how we start ending violence, instead of just managing it.
7,000+ phone calls to Health Secretary, Sajid Javid
In 2022, our campaign led to the Government committing to protect at-home abortion access, permanently.
Until just a few years ago women in the UK were forced to attend unnecessary appointments to take abortion pills, sometimes causing them to miscarry while they traveled back from the clinic.
WE knew that WE couldn’t go back to this. Our members came together to show politicians that not taking action was going to cost them votes and seats.
WE put a call out on social media for volunteers to make 293 calls to the Health Secretary on behalf of the 293 women who choose to have an at-home abortion each day, who would’ve been forced back into clinic waiting rooms.
The goal: to ask the Government not to roll back our reproductive rights. And our community showed up, making over 7,000 calls to Sajid Javid. And at-home abortion access in England is now guaranteed to remain.
WE’s #EnoughIsEnough campaign gets picked up by government
In March 2022, the Government announced their ongoing Enough campaign to end violence against women and girls.
This followed our long-standing #EnoughIsEnough campaign and marked a major shift in the Government’s rhetoric. Two campaigns were launched simultaneously, one by the Mayor of London and the other by the Government itself, which is now running across the UK.
Whilst government assets were previously focused on how women can manage their behaviour, this new resource website and advertising moved the focus onto how men can manage theirs. This marked a major step forwards in our goal of shifting the mainstream conversation around violence against women and girls.
Calling out “bad apples” in the nation’s police forces
2022 also saw the next evolution of our misogyny in the Met campaign, which is demanding a full national enquiry into misogyny in the UK police. Our fake serious incident boards made national headlines when we turned misogynistic WhatsApp messages from internal police officer chats into the infamous A-board signs.
As our leader Mandu Reid explained, “We are tired of being told it’s a few bad apples. How much more evidence does the home secretary need that misogyny is baked into our police forces? Unless there is a proper inquiry, with statutory powers, the culture in our police forces will never change.”
Read our seven core objectives
Then, become a part of WE