“You can’t ride a bike, because you’re a girl”
A sentence that made a five year old girl become a feminist, the notion that you cannot or should not want to do something due to gender was absurd to her even then.
Natalie Bennett has gone on to do some remarkable things, and she came to speak to us at Keele about some of them.
Natalie’s first degree was in Agricultural Science, which meant that when she would be the only politician with a background in science in meetings about science.
She thinks we need more scientists in politics.
She has also worked as a journalist where she would often write about things from a feminist perspective.
She was the leader of the Green Party 2012-2016 and she was the first woman, in British political history to take over the leadership of a party from another woman, Caroline Lucas.
It took until 2012 for that to happen.
Westminster is full of memorials to dead white men.
Natalie told us a story, to illustrate how the Houses of Parliament were not designed to accommodate women MPs.
In 2010, a young MP had a baby, and in parliament, when voting the rule is that an MP has to walk through the doors to vote, but only MPs are allowed to do this.
So when a woman, who had a baby with her, needed to vote she had to quickly pass her baby to the nearest MP and walk through to be counted.
This year is the anniversary of both women’s vote and women being allowed to stand
Suffrage a hundred years ago was a strange thing.
To vote you had to be a woman who was over 30 years of age with property, this was an attempt to prevent an imbalance of women to men following war.
However women over the age of 21 were able to stand to be an MP – this wasn’t considered to be an issue because they never thought female MPs would outweigh male MPs.
As of 2018 we currently have parliament at 32% female MPs.
If we continue at the pace we are at now, 15 year old girls will see a 50:50 Parliament when they are in their 80s.
Natalie asked the room, do we think parliament is a meritocracy?
Surely, we can do better surely than the people in government at the moment!
A Government needs to be representative of the people.
Period positivity and period poverty
Natalie told the room about a massive debate in 2015 where David Cameron was very uncomfortable talking about period poverty due to its relevance to female anatomy and period stigma.
Three years on politicians are talking openly about it, and talking positively about periods.
This means it is becoming easier to talk about period poverty and campaign to end it.
Where are the Women?
Natalie spoke to the room about tackling the myth that there are not enough qualified women to be in leadership positions:
In Norway, a law was passed to have 40% of boards be women. If this wasn’t done, the company would be de-registered.
There was a five year period to allow companies to do this and yet some companies still only did this hours before the deadline.
Many companies used the narrative that qualified women couldn’t be found.
When a study was conducted afterwards, looking at qualifications of women versus men on the boards, the findings showed that women held higher qualifications than the men, and were more qualified for the board positions.
So there are plenty of women and if this door can be opened, it opens the door to other forms of diversity other than gender.
How do we get women into leadership positions and politics?
#AskHerToStand you have to ask multiple times for a woman to stand as a political candidate.
Within the Green Party if there are no women on a short-list – they re-open the position and actively promote to find women to stand.
In 2015 Hackney’s female Green politician was found in this manner.
Patronising, Obnoxious and Unapproachable (Man at Keele, 2018)
Sophia (co-founder of WOKE, KPA Equality and Diversity Officer and co-author of this post) was lucky enough to be called all three of these in April 2018.
Natalie Bennett spoke about the gendered double standards women are held to and the negative labels given to women for acting in the same way a man would in a position of power.
The first time Natalie Bennett went on question time, she was reserved due to the branding of Caroline Lucas as a woman who “always interrupted”, consequently she didn’t have much time to voice her opinion.
Therefore, the second time she went on question time, she “ploughed through” to be heard.
This is a real problem for women, due to the negative stereotypes of “women always talk”, or the idea that they have nothing important to say.
Society has ingrained this within us all, and it will take a lot to undo that within society as a whole – but it’s about baby steps, it’s about empowering women, and encouraging them to have a voice.
You are NOT alone
It is harder to stand as a woman. Don’t do it alone.
The Green Party always has gender balance rules, if there is a lack of candidates the short-lists will be reopened, an example of this Natalie talked about was when all the women from the London Assembly List when to the pub together and signed each others nominations, it was a moment of pure support, women empowering and supporting women, and it resulted in 7 women and 4 men being put on the list.
Natalie described herself as a believer in quota systems; because unless those systems are implemented you have to keep fighting the same battles.
There is a real necessity for building in rules in order to put each battle behind you in order to power forward.
Understand that politics is something we have to DO otherwise it is done to us
Natalie stressed that people have been doing politics to us for so many years
Now it is time to campaign, empower, and make a difference. Each small step can lead to everyone feeling like the CAN make a difference
Political change doesn’t happen because the top GIVES it, it happens because the bottom TAKES it
Three things to take away:
1) Don’t be alone – build networks of support
2) Take every opportunity to gain experience – it will get easier, and be kind to yourself
3) People aren’t going to remember the small details, like stumbling over a word, the world is more forgiving than you think
This write up is by Yasmin Benjelloun and Sophia Taha