What should feminism be demanding from the General Election?

Since the General Election campaigns began, we have heard a lot on immigration, debates about whether UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his party have any substance, and jokes regarding Ed Miliband forgetting half of his speech on economic policies.

When it comes to women and politics, many feel disengaged because of the bullish schoolboy jeering in Parliament, lack of female representatives on front and back benches, and a general disinterest in because of the lack of discussion on women issues.

On the 750th anniversary of the Houses of Parliament, a monumental gathering took place. Can you imagine seeing women talking in the House of Commons 750 years ago? Can you imagine women talking about women’s issues at Westminster centuries ago? Needless to say, there would have been many men turning in their graves this week as feminists took centre stage to talk about what we want.

Chairing the discussion ‘What should feminism be demanding of the General Election’, held by the People’s Parliament, MP Stella Cressy claimed she has never, in all her time in Parliament, heard one woman speak consecutively after another. On Tuesday 20th January, four female panellists changed that.

The Guardian columnist, founder of ‘Everyday Sexism’, and female extraordinaire Laura Bates opened up the discussion. She argued that women’s voices need to be at the heart of policies and for the three following changes:

  1. Young People: technology exposes young people to the likes of pornography which affects girls and boys. Thus, schools need to provide them with education on sexual consent and healthy relationships so that girls do not feel pressured to do certain things or behave in certain way, and boys do not demand these of girls.
  2. Women in the workplace: from illegal questions regarding motherhood in interviews, to childcare and maternity issues, to physical abuse, women face many problems in the workplace. They also have to pay tribunal fees upfront before making an abuse claim, showing how unfair the justice system is towards women who are being abused. An audience member stated childcare should be a parents’ issue not seen as just a mother’s issue.
  3. Police, justice and victim-blaming: following the recent case of a schoolgirl accused for grooming her teacher by a judge, Bates stated that 26% abuse claims are not reported. She urged the justice system needs revising and police need specialist training for dealing with such claims.

Campaigner Rosie Rogers turned the question ‘What should feminism be demanding from the General Election’ on its head and discussed how the General Election can learn from feminism:

  1. Use inclusive and accessible language
  2. Exercise true leadership that focuses on the people and their real-life experiences
  3. Have humility and exercise humanity

Comedian and writer Ava Vidal echoed Rosie’s suggestion of listening to real voices which is something I endeavour to now incorporate into my work. As a television presenter, I aim to not only discuss a topic but bring a heart to the issue to show the impact of real issues in real life.

Ava also emphasised how women of colour are on the end of economic deterioration because of low pay. But she also stated that we should not oppress others with our own morality. For example, we should recognise some women of Islam want to wear a veil and we should not assume everyone wearing a veil is oppressed. Feminism is, after all, about women having the right to choice and individual freedom.

Lastly, activist Nimko Ali encouraged lobbying MPs, departments and charities to ensure your voice is heard on issues important to you, as she has done regarding Female Genital Mutilation.

While listening to all of the suggestions and comments, I realised just how far women have come but also how far we still need to go. The General Election really is a time to campaign on issues important to us and to have our voices heard.

If the media played less on our fears of immigration, and focused more on equality, can you imagine the change we could begin to create? Instead of Nigel Farage’s face on a front cover, or questions surrounding what PM David Cameron’s wife is wearing, we would see headlines on women’s issues.

Maybe we are fighting the wrong fights? Maybe we are contributing to the disparity in society by focusing on issues that are playing to our fears than being actual reality. Are we walking down a path to more conflict by asking whether or not to stay united, should we let others in, should we through others out?

The General Election could indeed, as Rosie stated, learn a lot from the equality feminism preaches. Because it is through equality we can truly have harmony. Understanding and accepting the other sex as equal, this need for equality will filter into other important spheres such as poverty, economic equality, race, and religion.

One thing I did not agree with was how equality is the end point. Yes, we need equality because this is fair and just. But I do not believe women should be striving to be and have the same as men as an end point because this is re-enacting, and therefore reiterating, patriarchy. We should be proud of being women and proud of our talents as individuals outside of the gender realm. We are not what we are because we are women; we are what we are because we are human. And we can progress further than the structures of patriarchy which have, for centuries, oppressed us.