You can’t ride a bike…You’re a girl!

“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.

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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.

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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.

https://5050parliament.co.uk/askhertostand/

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.

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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

 

Ask Her To Stand

On Wednesday 18th July 2018, Sophia, Roxy and Kiran got a train into London to go and attend a conference put on by the Fawcett Society and 50:50Parliament, working on getting more women into Parliament by asking women to stand.

The Conference aimed to support women to run for political positions and work across party lines to tackle inequality.

The evening offered panel sessions and workshops giving practical advice to all those who self-defined as women and wanted to get into politics and public life.

Between the three of us we covered all 4 workshops, networked and bagged a bit of swag to give to Ele when we got back!

We sat near the front ready for the opening session and as we looked around we saw a huge room, full of women.

Representing every section of intersectionality.

Representing multiple layers of oppressions and privileges and united together, demanding change, wanting a different state of affairs.

We were so inspired and we were definitely in the right place.

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From L-R: Sophia, Roxy, Kiran

Plenary Session

This opening session was incredible. Chaired by Sam Smethers – Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society.

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We sat and listened to some amazing women:

Lib Dem: Baroness Sal Brinton

SNP: Alison Thewliss MP

Labour: Dawn Butler

WEP: Sophie Walker

Conservative, WESC: Maria Miller

Green: Amelia Womack

 

The audience asked questions and the panel gave us all some insight. The women of parliament collaborate a lot to work towards shared goals even when their politics disagree.

One audience member stood up, asking a problematic question. She wanted to know if the room and the panel would be happy if 50 percent of parliament was trans women to the 50 percent men.

To our relief the entire room replied yes.

Then each panel member spoke up, reaffirmed that transwomen are women.

One panel member pointed out that we are yet to even have one trans MP.

We were so happy that we were truly in an intersectional feminist space. We hope the audience member reviews her own prejudices now.

The panel continued to discuss the issues and solutions that they thought would help get equality for women.

Amelia Womack spoke about the need for job sharing options for MPs. It is the only job that does not allow this. Job sharing would ensure accessibility for anyone that had caring responsibilities. Sophie Walker passionately asked the room, “Are you honestly telling me that the world is run by white men because they are better than, for example, black women?! Are you kidding me?It’s about time we see all women’s lives reflecting on EVERY page of manifestos”.

Dawn Butler spoke about the standards we expect women to have to compete with men. She said she wanted to champion mediocre women. “I’ll be the champion of mediocre women, I want to see mediocre women in politics.” She went on to say that other women must help women to succeed. If you get up the ladder, lay foundations for an elevator. Help women behind you get up quicker. Support them.

 

We learned that a lot of the parties were using all women shortlists for roles, and that the Green Party extended nomination times if no women were put forward by another 2 weeks.

These are things we are going to keep in mind for the smaller project at Keele.

This panel session was beyond inspiring, just the room full of women with multiple experiences, the room was diverse and just as an intersectional movement would be.

It was truly amazing to be surrounded by so many women.

We felt really moved.

Summary of Workshops:

Why Stand? What difference do women make? (50:50 Parliament)

This workshop started with a presentation (that we are bringing back to Keele) to tell us the statistics that underlie the under-representation of women in politics. We then heard from three women. Two who had recently won their seats in 2017 Labour and Conservative MPs, and one lady who was heading up the #AskHerToStand campaign, offering support for any women that wanted to get into the Lib Dems.

We learned about what inspired them to stand, and found out it was a rather ordinary small action that led them to have an extraordinary change of career: Someone asked them to.

This simple task, a second human telling them, ‘You know, you’d make a good MP, have you considered running?’. It reassured us that the journey we want W.o.K.E to take is on the right path. We are so keen to empower everyone on campus, and remind them of how awesome they already are.

The second common point they shared was that they had looked around and realised, some of their male counterparts were truly awful at their jobs! They then realised they could do a much better job.

Something we learned all throughout the sessions is that representation shapes policy. Having women in the room and a diverse representation of women, ensures that policies that represent them are made and put forward.

This is what we want to achieve. Let’s get ourselves at the events, in the rooms and in the roles that will make a difference at Keele.

What’s Stopping You? Overcoming the barriers to getting into politics (Parliament Project)

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This was an energetic and awesome workshop with breakout groups of 3-5 women supported by a facilitator. There were flip-charts and marker pens and loud noises! We talked about the barriers to participation and split them into categories

Despite the breakout groups being small when we all fed back what was discussed there was so many common threads. All the women spoke about a lack of confidence, a feeling they weren’t knowledgeable enough and a worry that they wouldn’t be able to do the roles.

These women were strong, talented people and yet we all shared this imposter syndrome.

Building Your Political CV: How to build the relevant experience

This workshop focussed on helping women make the most out of the experience they already had. Focussing on the transferable skills and boosting the confidence of the women in the room. We already have the skills to do these roles, it is about realising it!

Political Careers: Working in and around politics

This workshop gave women practical advice and allowed women to talk to those who already had political careers.

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We came back energised and inspired and determined to take more Keele women to conferences.

The shared learning and the empowerment was fantastic.

The event was live streamed and recorded so follow this link to learn more:

Ask Her to Stand 2018 Video of Conference

We hope you join us on a conference soon.

If you find something you think others would enjoy going to let us know!

For upcoming events click here