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A women’s party and intersectionality

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WEP, the Women's Equality Party, Camden, intersectioinalityAs the Women’s Equality Party gains momentum it will need to grapple with intersectionality.

The inaugural meeting of the Women’s Equality Party Camden took place on 28 June.

As one of over 40 new branches of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP_UK on Twitter) set up in less than four months, and led by Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer, this Camden group is part of what has been called a ‘political revolution’.

The turnout in Camden was not as big as the Brighton group which had, reports say, 150 attendees at the inaugural meeting, nor apparently as diverse as the Cardiff branch.

However the introductions around the table were fascinating and telling.

All the women and men in attendance had experienced the effects of inequality in one form or another, either through study and research or through personal experience in their professions and within their families.

These multitudes of experiences contributed to vibrant discussions on each of the six policy areas identified by the party:
Equal representation in politics and business;
Equal representation across the education system;
Equal pay;
Equal treatment of women in the media;
Equal parenting rights; and
An end to violence against women.

The discussions covered everything from having more women in the history curriculum and more women role models in business to how to get more girls on debating teams and more representation of women in sport, with key themes running throughout, such as the need for age-appropriate personal, social and health education and the need to change attitudes.

Overwhelmingly there was a sense of optimism and positivity, without any underestimating of the magnitude of the task ahead.

And goodness knows Camden needs a force for change, with £30 million council budget cuts already and another £70 million to be cut by 2018.

The cuts have and will continue to have a profound impact on women, affecting all areas from from a £6 million funding cut to support for volunteer organisations and a 2 per cent increase in council tax for residents to the promised closing of all – yes, all – subsidised early education and childcare places for children under two years old promised next year.

However these issues don’t just affect women.

The non-partisan party’s status as a single-issue party reflects the fact that, as Katy Guest wrote in the Independent, ‘equality is a hell of an issue… with at least half the electorate potentially very interested in achieving parity’.

“Women have waited too long to sit on our boards, play a part in our politics and stride our streets,” Toksvig said at the first WEP fundraiser earlier this month.

These statements are true, of course, and the sheer volume of support WEP has already acquired, with over 30,000 facebook likes at last count and 40 plus branches, is testament to how many people agree with these sentiments.

Mayer has explicitly likened WEP’s approach to that of the UK Independent Party (UKIP): creating change fast by becoming a political force and compelling the main political parties to adopt more of their agenda.

“If you appear to be an electoral threat then the other parties will want to look more like you,” she explained.

However if anything does limit the party’s success, it will be its single-issue focus.

Inequality for women is inextricably wrapped up in socio-economic, racial, sexuality and class inequalities.

In most of the discussions at the Camden branch meeting, this issue of intersectionality came up, with the question posed: how can you address one area of inequality without the others?

The main topic for discussion at the next Camden meeting will be how to increase the party’s diversity, and this is the issue which the party will have to grapple with most fiercely.

This is indeed a movement whose time has come, as Guest wrote, however the question of how to remain a single-issue party with a targeted purpose without alienating many who feel that gender inequality is only part of a much wider structural problem, is still to be answered.

It might be that the party will need to walk a fine line by sticking to its aim but lending its fast-increasing support to ally organisations in the fight against all inequalities.

In the meantime: join in and follow them on WEP_UK on Twitter, or on facebook.

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