Violence is one of the biggest threats to the safety, freedom and lives of women and girls. One in five has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. Every year in England and Wales, more and 60,000 girls under the age of 15 are at high risk of FGM. A quarter of all women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, and here in Leeds, the police regularly receive over 60 calls related to this type of crime every day.
This year, we’ve not only seen the true scale of this crisis, we’ve also seen the systemic normalisation, prejudice and objectification that surrounds and perpetuates it every day. And sadly, it doesn’t surprise us. In Leeds, we feel the poignancy of a problem that repeats itself decade after decade keenly, remembering 1977’s first Reclaim the Night marches in response to the serial murders and attacks committed by Peter Sutcliffe.
Back then, the police response was slow and the reporting biased. Women were put under curfew and told to stay at home. And since then, blame has continued to be placed not on the perpetrators of violence, but on the women and girls who experience it every day.
Despite the years of fighting for a fairer system and, ultimately, and end to misogynistic violence, we still don’t have the rights and justice we need. Women are still blamed for rape and male violence, and cases of domestic abuse have increased 20% worldwide since the start of the pandemic.
Action is needed now, and that’s why WE are making ending violence against women and girls (EVAWG) a political and policing priority. In Leeds, Louise Jennings – our Women’s Equality Party candidate in Alwoodley – pledges to work tirelessly to protect those in danger and make the support they need accessible.
‘I would immediately start ring-fencing funding for domestic abuse support services, and further increase directly funding for refuse space for women with no recourse to public funds,’ says Louise. ‘I will make sure that no woman is turned away.’
If she’s elected on 6th May, Louise will work with local EVAWG organisations to establish a safety group for women and girls affected by this issue. She’ll reach out to the local police force with the ambition of making misogyny a hate crime and bringing in compulsory training on gender-based violence for all front line police officers.
Alongside this, Louise plans to work with local transport companies to conduct a review of all reporting procedures, and make sure all customer-facing staff receive proper training in dealing with gender-based violence issues.
#VoteLouise in the local elections on May 6th!
The climate crisis is the biggest global challenge of a generation. Probably multiple generations. You don’t need another blog to tell you that our planet and the people on it are facing an emergency like no other. But the problem with hyperbolic language like that is it fails to acknowledge the nuances in how different parts of the population feel the effects of this global crisis.
Across the world, women – and in particular women of colour – are facing the worst impacts of the climate emergency. The Paris Agreement’s 2050 deadline for a climate-neutral world creeps closer, but many argue that this milestone isn’t urgent enough to protect the lives it needs to.
Despite the global north being climate change’s biggest contributor, many of its affects aren’t yet felt keenly here. In much of the global south, however it’s a different story, with communities facing life and livelihood-threatening issues on a much more regular basis. The disparity is set to worsen. We might struggle to see the tangible links now, but it won’t be long before we do – and that means we should be paying attention now. With 80 percent of the people displaced by climate change female, and a review by the Global Gender Alliance finding that women are more likely to suffer food insecurity as a result of the crisis, the problem will worsen if we don’t take notice and action.
Freak storms, flooding and forest fires are often the most obvious manifestations of the climate emergency. We see them on our screens, we lament their growing frequency, and all too often they seem distant and hard to actualise in our lives. But these kinds of events are becoming more common, and their effects more widely felt. Women are more likely to suffer mental illness and partner violence in their wake. Females often end up taking on multiple jobs to cope – and all with the added roles of domestic work and childcare that we know fall disproportionately to women all over the world. And all of this? It’s a familiar story. It leads to fewer women being educated, fewer girls able to live the life they want, and will ultimately widen the global gender imbalance for years to come.
In the UK, the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the inequality already rife across the country. With 113,000 more women than men furloughed and women twice as likely to have lost their jobs in the first wave, the foundations of entrenched gender imbalance are already firmly laid. And while women in the UK might not yet feel the economic and social effects of the climate crisis, the experts tell us it won’t be long. Just as Covid-19 made things harder for women than men, a rise in climate related issues and incidents rise in frequency will see gender inequalities exacerbated.
WE believe women are at the heart of avoiding a climate catastrophe. Two thirds of the world’s poorest adults are female, and multilateral solutions are needed to set and meet emissions targets that work. We need to get this on the curriculum, teach it in schools, drive stronger partnerships and hold each other accountable. We must forge understanding to make this intricate web of inequalities clearer, and we must make sure that conversations about climate change go hand in hand with discussions of race, class and gender.
Leeds City Council has pledged to make our city carbon neutral by 2030, and Louise Jennings, our candidate in Alwoodley, will hold them to this. She will fight for safe, inclusive public transport and give a voice to the communities disproportionately impacted by the dual effects of Covid-19 and the global climate emergency.
#VoteLouise in the local elections on May 6th!
To say that this year has been unprecedented seems somewhat clichéd. The world over has been plagued with unrelenting challenge and emotional difficulty that’s hard to truly express. Yet with International Women’s day - the Christmas of feminism - upon us, we are leaping at the opportunity to celebrate the achievements and successes of the incredible, strong and inspiring women whom Women’s Equality Leeds has been proud to stand alongside this year.
In the face of adversity, these women are Choosing to Challenge in pursuit of a better world for women, girls and all of mother earth’s inhabitants. They are continually ringing the changes, tirelessly striving for gender parity and calling out inequality and gender bias in a society built on oppressive patriarchal structures.
The challenges are multiple, but the answers these women provide are ceaseless. Their energy and determination to support and advocate for women and girls is truly worth celebrating all year round, but WE want to shout our praises from the rooftops on this day especially.
Sonia Jalal - Hull Sisters Board Member, Activist and Advocate for Women’s rights
Sonia leads Hull Sisters, an East Yorkshire women’s centre that has been providing support to minority ethnic women in the community since inception in 2012. They provide essential services and advice to women and children escaping abuse and domestic violence, suffering with immigration problems and racism, or dealing with health services and economic hardship.
Throughout the pandemic, Sonia has continued to facilitate the service with an incredibly small team. She’s worked relentlessly to face and counteract challenges reaching beyond the consequences of lockdown. The biggest challenge for Sonia and Hull Sisters was eviction from their building in October 2020. “It was a very painful process, with us being physically pushed out from the building which used to house our community centre.”
The eviction was senselessly cruel, and left Hull Sisters and Sonia without a physically safe and culturally appropriate space to support the 485 women and children who rely on the service. These people have subsequently been left displaced, unsupported and on the street.
“This pressure is making our service users even more vulnerable. With what funds we have, we’ve had to choose whether to save for a building or to spend it on supporting our service users, whose needs are even greater during lockdown. This is an impossible choice for myself and the Board members. I don’t think anyone else could have survived this pressure.”
But in spite of this incredible pressure and the lack of support from Hull Council, Sonia has determinedly maintained the lifeline that the organisation provides. Firmly challenging the Council's lack of transparency and disregard for the non-profit, Sonia refuses to be silenced in fighting for the specialist support that migrant, refugee and ethnic minority women need.
Sonia has supported numerous service users in bravely sharing their stories in the media to raise awareness of the Hull Sisters’ needs – and the lack of local government support they have received. This action has highlighted the disparity between the support offered to Hull Sisters, and that offered to other similar charities.
The organisation has been under incredible pressure this year, and Sonia has confronted problems with resources and supplies by creating an Amazon wishlist to facilitate donations of food, sanitary products and toiletries, distributing these to women and families in need. Hull Sisters want to become self-sustaining, but need breathing space and some temporary support to make this happen.
Sonia has courageously stood up to injustice and discrimination, vigorously advocating for the rights of women and girls and challenging the systems and beliefs that undermine progress.
“I learnt that we have to stay steadfast, even despite being displaced. Our commitment will always be to support the vulnerable women and children who use our service. They come first. I also learnt to trust that you will find your allies – they may be far away rather than close by. We have had great support from organisations such as ROSA, Women’s Resource Centre, Angelou Centre and WE.
I have been so delighted to see the number of Hull residents who have come to support – 289 families in Hull have donated to Hull Sisters, even including young people who had made the effort to go to the supermarket and walk to our drop-off point with donations of toiletries and food. It was so great to see them.”
You can support Hull Sisters’ campaign to raise money for a new building by donating to the GoFundMe Page, or donate items through the Amazon wishlist so that women and families in need will receive basic necessities and essentials. To get involved in our campaign to help Hull Sisters, please DM us on twitter or email [email protected]
Dr Louise Jennings - Medical Engineer, Proud Mother, WEP Leeds Council Candidate
Louise is an Associate Professor of Medical Engineering at Leeds University, as well as being a proud Mum, feminist and activist.
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have proved immensely difficult for students at university. While juggling her own home-schooling responsibilities, Louise has been supporting students at Leeds University who are participating in remote learning. Challenging the inequalities and barriers that the pandemic has caused in accessing learning – particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) based subjects – Louise continues to ensure education is prioritised, especially in her field of medical engineering.
In spite of the difficulties, Louise has been running medical engineering undergraduate projects that focus on women’s health. The gender health gap and inequalities in healthcare research and funding continue to influence old fashioned and poor-quality treatments for women. This means that the understanding and long-term prognosis for many conditions remains unimproved. Louise is challenging this standard, currently supervising students looking at the instruments used in cervical screening for example, and solutions for pelvic organ prolapse.
At Leeds University, Louise is also an Athena Swan Champion. Athena Swan is an initiative managed by the UK Equality Challenge Unit celebrating higher education institutions that advance gender equality through supporting and recognising the careers of women in STEMM.
As a champion and through her teaching and research, Louise is steadfast in bettering opportunities and outcomes for women in STEMM, promoting and aiding this essential, pioneering research.
Louise is running in the local elections this May, standing to be the first Women's Equality Party councillor elected to Leeds City Council. She is campaigning to challenge the status quo, to empower women and to build a fairer society.
“I believe gender equality should be at the heart of Leeds Council’s words and actions.”
In this challenge, Louise is campaigning to improve the lives of women and families – striving for gender parity in her policy areas of providing adequate childcare support and ending violence against women and girls. Louise is denouncing the government's poor response to helping working parents and confronting their inaction in protecting women and girls escaping violence and abuse.
WE are hosting a Kitchen Table Event with Louise on 17th March – it’s your opportunity to meet your WE candidate for Leeds City Council. We’ll be talking about issues that matter to you in Leeds, and hearing from Louise about her journey into politics and her campaign pledges on childcare, ending violence against women and girls, and the climate emergency. Join us on Zoom on 17th March 19:30 PM. (Meeting ID: 931 0845 0700 Passcode: 136736)
The past 12 months (and counting…) have been unbelievably tough on just about every member of society. But as the ‘stay at home’ messages continue to reverberate, pressure mounts on the people for whom home is not an easy, safe or happy place to be.
In a lot of cases, those people are women. We know that this pandemic has hit the female half of the population hardest, with women disproportionately impacted by issues like domestic violence, redundancies, childcare and more.
In Hull, minority ethnic women facing a range of human rights issues have had a place to turn to when in need. Since 2012, Hull Sisters has been a lifeline for women in the community suffering with genital mutilation, domestic violence, mental health, economical deprivation, immigration issues, racism and more.
The centre currently supports more than 485 women and their children, helping them to escape abuse, form stronger relationships and connect with others who understand what they’re going through. And as the pandemic hit, the work of Hull Sisters became even more vital.
Although the centre could no longer run its weekly programme of sewing, cooking and yoga classes, the team has continued to offer English lessons online, and further support for women in every way it can. For the people who come here, Hull Sisters is an invaluable space – a place to be free from danger, discrimination and deprivation – somewhere to be listened to, cared for and valued.
It was, therefore, a monumental blow to the fabric of Hull’s female BAME community when, in December last year, Hull Sisters were evicted from the building they have operated from for the past eight years. With nowhere to go and no funds to move somewhere new, the organisation turned to Hull Council – only to be faced with the harsh reality that the city has no strategy for BAME women.
The council has given Hull Sisters the option of renting the building, but at the cost of £15,000 per year (without gas, electric, water or council tax), it’s simply not a viable option. So the sisters have done the only thing left to do, and taken matters into their own hands. Their GoFundMe page has been running since the end of November, and has received over 150 donations resulting in a rising total of almost £4,000.
The charity’s target of £160,000 might be a long way off, but much-needed support and awareness is beginning to show up for the amazing work they do. WE Leeds is supporting Hull Sisters as they raise money for a new centre – and we’re asking you to do the same. When you donate, your money will go straight towards helping women in hull break free from isolation and overcome human rights issues.
For more immediate support, the group has also set up an Amazon Wishlist, containing the items it’s most in need of. From cereal bars to sanitary towels, soap to teabags, these are the basic necessities that help Hull Sisters offer a lifeline to women every single day. You can browse and buy here, and for the address, just drop a DM to the WEP Leeds or Hull Sisters Twitter, and we’ll be happy to help you out.
Period poverty in 2020
Like many other issues, period poverty has been exacerbated by the events of 2020. There has been a clear increase in the amount of people who are unable to access period products during this turbulent time. Period poverty charities report that they are supplying almost six times as many menstrual products since before the pandemic. The recipients of these donations include NHS workers who couldn't access period products due to the number of hours that they were spending at work.
Despite the UK providing free period products in schools and some universities, the closure of these public places during the lockdown in March created further problems for those unable to purchase their own sanitary towels and tampons. While the country remains in uncertainty as we move into 2021, those with periods can’t predict if they will be able to access the products they need.
Free period products in Scotland
In a glimmer of hope in 2020, at the end of November the Scottish government approved a bill that would make period products free throughout Scotland. Following surveys that found that one in four girls in education have struggled to access period products – and the lobbying of Labour MSP Monica Lennon – the necessity of this cause was recognised and the bill was passed. Instead of it being an individual’s decision to provide period products in public places, it is now a legal duty to provide them to anybody who needs them. This marks a decisive step towards ending period poverty for girls in Scotland, and around the world.
Where is the UK in tackling period poverty?
This victory for women in Scotland leads us to ask: what is being done in the rest of the UK to tackle this pressing issue? In the UK, 1 in 10 girls can’t afford period products – and this has only increased during the events of this year.
In 2019, period products were made available in schools and colleges in England. This scheme helps those experiencing period poverty, but does not cover universities, apprenticeships or time spent out of school. Period poverty is clearly not limited to school term times or those in education, and therefore the UK government must follow Scotland in providing free period products to anyone who needs them. The government has stated that the current period product scheme will continue into 2021, but have made no indication of its necessary extension due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The WEP phrase ‘Build Back Equal’ has never been more relevant: women have again been disproportionately affected when it comes to period poverty.
If you’re interested in helping to fight period poverty close to home, then Leeds-based charity Freedom4Girls are making a difference in Leeds and around the world. This charity wants to end worldwide period poverty. They are focused on addressing the different factors of period poverty and working against them in order to make the most difference. They focus on education to reduce the stigma that surrounds periods, as well as donating products to those who need them. Freedom4Girls use donation stations around Leeds and the UK to provide free period products to those who can’t afford them.
12 female-fronted businesses you should know about this festive season (and all year round!)
Challenges have rolled in thick and fast in 2020 – among them the unique pressures faced by female entrepreneurs to keep their businesses alive and thriving despite all things pandemic.
An Institute for Fiscal Studies report found that UK mums are one and a half times more likely to have quit or lost their job during lockdown as dads. Add to that the fact that – on average – women spent more than double the amount of time home-schooling their children when the Covid-19 restrictions were in full force, and you begin to see why the strain on women is so great.
We all know going into business takes time, energy and money, things that have been in short supply this year – especially for women, whose small businesses contribute a whacking great £85 billion to the UK economy. Despite that hefty sum, female founding teams are half as likely to be in a positive situation after the pandemic compared to mixed-gender or all-male ones.
What are we trying to say? In a nutshell, female-led enterprises need our support. Christmas is a key trading time for many independent businesses, and with fewer people heading to the physical shops this year, shopping around online is more important than ever.
Here in Leeds, WEP is supporting small local businesses with our very own ‘12 Days of Christmas’ (well, maybe 13, if you’re lucky). Each day for the first couple of weeks in December, we’re throwing the spotlight on a different female-helmed company – sharing their products on social and encouraging shoppers to check out their wares.
From sweet treats to essential oils, handmade jewellery to bespoke prints, there’s a diverse range of products to suit every taste. And the best part? When you buy from these indies, you’re not only supporting the local Leeds economy, you’re helping your entrepreneurial sisters thrive too.
Holly Rothwell, our Branch Policy and Research Officer, said: “As we come together as a community to ‘Build Back Equal’ from the havoc 2020 has caused to our local economy, it is vital that women-led businesses, which were increasing in number pre-pandemic, are supported to continue providing employment for local people.”
Check out the lovely list of businesses we’re supporting – perfect for a browse, a Christmas gift or a spontaneous treat. Because let’s face it, we all deserve one of those right now!
A range of heavenly diffusers, oils – and even the odd Christmas card.
2. Miss Helen’s
Delicious, bespoke cakes for every occasion and taste – all homemade by passionate Leeds baker, Helen Strange.
Emily Camara’s stunning range of handmade earrings made from polymer clay.
Check out Laveeza Zahid’s positivity prints – guaranteed to keep you smiling through Christmas and well into the new year.
5. SPACE PxSSY
Fun, feminist prints from designer Charlotte Haych.
A selection of beautiful, modern embroidery pieces made by Mari using modern and traditional techniques.
Playful, handmade statement jewellery from Leeds crafter, Laura.
Unique zines, patches, prints and pin badges from talented Yorkshire illustrator, Kristyna Baczynski.
9. Bobbi Rae UK
Unique, contemporary illustrations from self-proclaimed one-woman-show, Bobbi Rae.
A range of indie gifts – from jewellery and bubble bath to homeware, clothing and prints.
Visit Soraya Joof’s bookstore to find children’s books promoting positive black images, cultural diversity, confidence and self-love.
Afro-Deity produces handmade micro batches of 100% natural, organic body butters in West Yorkshire using cold pressed coconut oil, virgin shea butter, pomegranate seed oil and steam distilled essential oils. There are six blends available, including Mother Nature (an essential oil-free blend for extra sensitive skin), Divine Feminine (with lemon, patchouli and ylang ylang), Sweet Dreams (with lavender and roman chamomile) - and more. Each luxurious body butter is available in three sizes: a 5ml sample pot for £1.20, a 100ml size at £6.50 and a 190ml size for £12
And one for luck, because after all – it is Christmas.
Beautiful bespoke cakes made by talented baker/decorator, Leilani – with the odd cameo from her entrepreneur sister, 12-year-old Avaiyia, whose business The Kookie Kid is already making waves.
Reported cases of domestic abuse and gender-based violence have soared during the Covid-19 crisis. As the ‘stay-at-home’ order reached households across the nation, for many, the words meant more than simply forgoing meet ups with friends or trips to the shops. For thousands in the UK and around the world, home isn’t a place of safety – and the social, financial and psychological pressures of the pandemic have only exacerbated the risk of reversing decades of progress in the fight against inequality.
The impact of 2020
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) has escalated in 2020 due to a number of pandemic-related factors, including food shortages, unemployment, economic insecurity, school closures, massive migration flows and the threat of civil unrest. Cases of female genital mutilation, sexual abuse and femicide have risen, while support organisations and shelters struggle to provide the services now in demand at greater scale. Action is needed now to address these issues and support the thousands of people they impact and threaten every day.
With the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women just behind us (November 25), WE is standing with several concurrent campaigns to call for progressive, protective steps in the name of survivors. With the festive period just ahead of us and restrictions in place across the UK, it’s more important than ever to unite in our mission to stop VAWG.
The 16 Days Campaign
The Global 16 Days Campaign is the world’s longest-running campaign to end violence against women. Launched by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership back in 1991, it runs every year from November 25 to December 10 (International Human Rights Day). Its demand? For gender-based violence (GBV) to be eliminated.
As the start and end dates so clearly signify, the 16 Days Campaign is underpinned by human rights and feminist principles. It’s reached more than 300 million people since 1991, being used by a diverse range of
organisations to raise awareness and drive action around ending GBV.
Orange the World
In a powerful move of solidarity, the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence Against Women campaign is recognising 16 Days with a concept to amplify the call for global action to increase awareness, galvanise advocacy efforts and share knowledge. Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect! builds on global initiatives ‘Generation Equality’, and 'Gender Based Action Coalition'. Its four key principles lay out the basic necessities of flexible funding, zero-tolerance prevention, adequate, explicit response, and the ongoing collection of data to improve services.
With a survivor centred, multi-sectoral approach, Orange the World aims to leave no one behind. Its signature orange colour symbolises unity, strength and solidarity – you might have seen in lighting up buildings and landmarks across the world on 25 November.
Here in the UK, the Government has done little to stop the preventable suffering of women during the Covid-19 crisis. That’s why WE are calling for:
- Guaranteed funding for specialist services to support women and girls suffering violence
- The introduction of an affirmative consent law
- Urgent reform of the justice service
- Access to services for migrant women with insecure status
Join the conversation
We’ll be tweeting about these topics over the coming weeks and months, so follow us to keep up to date and use the hashtag #EndVAWG to join the conversation. The WEP UK Academy supports women in finding their voice and campaigning to end VAWG. You can support this through our Crowdfunder here.
Support for Leeds Women’s Aid
WE are asking you to fight domestic violence and abuse in Leeds by supporting Leeds Women’s Aid. They support hundreds of women and families every year, aiming to give survivors and sufferers of GBV the confidence and strength to find safety and independence.
During the pandemic, Leeds Women’s Aid have seen helpline calls double and referrals increase by more than 60 percent. To make sure as many people as possible feel safe to use their services, the charity has launched a confidential chat service – a critical resource during the pandemic.
Childcare is crucial to the fabric of society. Getting it right means healthier, happier children and adults who are more able to work, provide good incomes and have better mental health. But our society isn’t designed like that. There are cracks in the system as a result of years of underfunding, and the Covid-19 crisis has only made matters worse. We need to take action now.
Why does it matter?
A lack of flexible, affordable childcare has a negative impact on both children’s development and parents’ employability. With costs often high and working patterns variable, childcare is one of the biggest blockers when it comes to adults entering or re-entering the workplace. And children feel the impact of this strain too, with care from adults who (through no fault of their own) are often stressed, tired or struggling with mental health.
Issues around childcare are especially significant for single parents or those without a support circle available. A survey by single parent family charity, Gingerbread, reports that almost half of parents have had to borrow from friends, family or formal lenders to cover childcare costs, showing the link between financial insecurities and childcare that just doesn’t measure up.
When 90 percent of UK single mothers are women, the far-reaching impact of inadequate childcare provision becomes clearer. In a government survey, non-working mothers were more likely to cite childcare issues as the main reason they couldn’t work. And with women at a disadvantage when it comes to getting into the workplace, gender imbalances precipitate and top positions are more likely to be filled by men.
What about Covid?
The pandemic has only laid bare the impact of inadequate childcare on families across the UK. In a year of school closures, financial uncertainty and myriad other social, emotional and physical pressures, securing adequate childcare has become more difficult than ever, with deprived areas suffering disproportionately.
A third of parents have struggled to find childcare since the first UK lockdown was lifted, with half of those with children under five saying the government hasn’t done enough to help them access the support they need during the crisis. A survey by Trades Union Congress found the pandemic has had an especially adverse effect on working mothers, 41 percent of whom with children under 10 are now struggling to find childcare that will allow them to work. This has led to one in six women having to cut working hours to fill the gap.
What do we need?
The UK is facing a childcare crisis. Women are at greater risk of being pushed out of the workforce, falling into financial difficulty and facing mental health issues. And with a quarter of childcare providers fearing closure next year, immediate action is needed to prevent the situation becoming much worse.
We believe every child and parent has the right to flexible, affordable childcare. It’s the key to a thriving and resilient society – in Leeds and across the UK. We’re calling for fundamental changes to the system. Changes that will enable the provision of high-quality, responsible childcare where it’s needed most. But to campaign effectively, we need your views.
We’ve created a three-minute survey to gather the childcare experiences of parents, non-parents and employers in Leeds. When we’ve got the information, we’ll use it to strengthen the case for change and help key decision makers think urgently and realistically about a new model for childcare.
With face-to-face gatherings off the cards, the third Women’s Equality Party Conference faced a new challenge. But like every other obstacle 2020 has thrown our way, we weren’t about to let that stop us. Attendees came together virtually, using an app to access the all-singing, all-dancing conference experience completely remotely. From 15th to 18th of October, ticket holders joined Zoom sessions, watched webinars, giggled at comedy sessions, voted on motions and looked on as a vibrant range of speakers poured their hearts out on screen.
This year’s theme was Build Back Equal. It was a shift of perspective on ‘Build Back Better’ – a phrase embedded in 2020’s lexicon, often used to reference economic recovery and championed by UK non-profit, Green New Deal UK. But being part of WEP means acknowledging that improvement is futile without equal footing to begin with. Growth, be it economic, social, cultural or otherwise, means little if it comes from a place of injustice – and that’s what Conference boldly endeavoured to take on.
At a time when so many of us feel starved of connection and community, the four days went some way to conjure that sense of togetherness. Conversations blossomed, supportive comments piled up, and while physical closeness was missing, that galvanising empowerment of Conference wasn’t hard to tap into. This – as Chief of Staff, Hannah Peaker so rightly asserted – was to be the beating heart of the party. Time to forge a new consensus about our future – to take on the challenge of rebuilding, remodelling and reimagining a world in which systems work to champion the rights of women. It was never going to be easy, but with 60 speakers and over 1,000 feminists logged in and fired up to take on the future together, we were ready to give it a damn good go.
The programme opened with a look back at the progress and achievements of our party over the last two years, with the first day featuring everything from Cynthia Enloe’s pioneering feminist critique of militarizing Covid-19, to cocktail making in the name of the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We witnessed Mandu Reid’s first ever leadership speech and learnt that real change begins with building new economic systems that work for women. We witnessed an earth-shattering spoken word performance from Miss Yankey and Yasmin Ali, and heard powerful insights on how we can stop so many Black women dying in childbirth.
This year’s Conference headliner was prolific feminist writer and activist, Laura Bates. As founder of the ground-breaking Everyday Sexism Project, she’s done critical work in the name of uncovering the unspoken depths of misogyny in the UK and beyond. She joined Mandu on Saturday evening to talk about the subject of her new book, Men Who Hate Women. The discussion delivered a chilling glimpse into a dangerous online world where this kind of hatred can flourish.
To write the book, Laura went undercover. Posing as ‘Alex’, a young man searching the internet for answers, she was able to enter subreddits and forums where toxic misogyny is rife.
She was shocked by the violence and language she encountered, but what spurred her to begin writing was her experience in schools. Travelling to classrooms around the country, Laura discovered young boys repeating the same sets of wrong statistics and skewed claims about feminism, rape allegations and white male victimhood. She spoke of the kind of radicalisation that would be cast out immediately under any other belief system, highlighting the link between anti-feminist forums and white supremacist grooming.
“Over half of mass shooters actually kill a family member during their killing spree, and two thirds have a history of stalking or harassing women,” she said, highlighting the female victims whose lives could be saved by better education and legislation. But, as with any issue of gender injustice, it’s not just women who suffer. “The greatest irony of the ‘manosphere’ is that [it] claim[s] to fight for men who experience real issues like mental health or sexual violence, but ironically they absolutely double down on the kind of constraining stereotypes that underpin those issues,” said Laura. A bleak reminder of the dually toxic nature of this type of discrimination – especially when it exists inside a system where women are already underrepresented and marginalised.
Through it all, the conversation between Laura and Mandu was balanced and honest – a frank discussion of a highly emotive and triggering topic conducted in a refreshingly respectful way. At one point, Mandu shared some of the story behind her motion (which would be debated the following day) on affirmative consent, and her courage in speaking about such a personal yet, sadly for many women, familiar experience brought a level of emotional clarity and weight to the session.
This is the beauty of Conference and the speakers and participants who come together to make it the impactful congregation that it is. Through every difficult conversation and chilling statistic, the sense of solidarity strengthened. Laura’s findings and the truths they uncover are frightening and uncomfortable, but their importance and her courage in speaking out is clear. It’s time for change in so many areas – hidden online misogyny and radicalisation starkly being one them. But with calm, intelligent yet unrelenting voices like Laura’s, like Mandu’s, like so many of those we heard across the weekend, we continue our journey. This is how we Build Back Equal, and the story’s only just begun.
Written by Holly Curry – Change the Chat CIC www.changethechat.co.uk
Research shows us that the female talent pipeline starts to shrink around mid-management level from being roughly a 50/50 gender split down to around 3% of women at board level; a major factor for the Gender Pay Gap. One of the key reasons for this is that women are still taking up the majority of primary carer roles in families, meaning that their capacity to return to traditional 9 – 5, full time roles is reduced and as a result, there is an over representation of women in low paid, part time work; many of whom are overqualified.
Currently, women are opting for roles that fit around their families which is demonstrated by the 427,000 women in the UK on a career break, of which more than half will return to these lower skilled, part-time roles. Women returners earn around a third less than male counterparts, taking between a 12% and 32% pay cut, causing a bottle neck effect - as salaries rise the presence of women falls.
This affects opportunities for women on many levels; the lack of female presence in senior roles makes it the norm for men to be visible as the decision makers, and a lack of female sponsors for more junior women coming up the ladder continues the cycle of a lack of gender diversity and female presence in senior roles. In this way, it is easy to see how we have become stuck in a traditional, inflexible way of working and why women are excluded from more senior roles and higher earning potential, when their external commitments are equally as inflexible.
Flexibility in the workplace for everyone, at all levels, means that women are more able to progress, and more able to earn higher salaries. More women in senior level roles has a direct, immediate, and tangible impact on the Gender Pay Gap, as well as igniting a less tangible, positive shift in cultural change. Currently, the emphasis on flexibility is within those lower skilled roles; however, we need to start looking up, looking at how we can make roles flexible from the top down. Businesses need a cultural shift – as opposed to waiting for individual requests for flexibility.
Until flexibility is the norm, women will be stunted in their careers and in their potential to earn salaries equal to their male counterparts and the Gender Pay Gap will remain as prevalent as it is today.