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Say hello to the new face of equality in the UK.
Long ago, in the not so distant land of Manchester, a group of brave and radical women came together in an attempt to do the impossible- give birth. Not to an actual child, that would have been far too easy by comparison. No, their child was a revolution, an uprising, a political movement, unlike anything the United Kingdom had ever seen. Theirs was the Suffragettes. And now, just over a century later, it is my pleasure to introduce you to the newest fruit of their labour, the Women’s Equality party (WE), who had its first ever conference on the 26th of November, 2016.
In a world riddled with online trolls, pay gaps and terribly unrealistic beauty standards, life as a modern woman can be frustrating to say the least. The subtle, but usually not so subtle, discrimination can become too much too handle, but this is where the Women’s Equality party steps in. They’re here to remind all of us that we need to do more than handle the situation, we need to change it. The conference itself was, at the risk of sounding cliché, a truly inspirational and historic event, and the speakers were remarkable women whose words made the entire room laugh and cry.
The atmosphere was buzzing and ripe with expectation as Shakira Martin the Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS) stepped up to the mic and gave a stirring speech on sexual harassment within universities and the startlingly rate at which such cases are mismanaged. In her speech, the VP spoke about the “I Consent” campaign, which you may have seen in our very own Alexander Square earlier this term, and other initiatives the NUS has been promoting in universities across the country. These programs have been created in the hopes of spreading awareness about sexual violence against women and the many forms it comes in: Student-on-student, Staff-on-student, and even Staff-on-staff. Shakira also laid out the statistics by adding that 17% of Freshers report cases of sexual harassment within their first week of uni. The union is campaigning that a statutory Sex & Rape education course be made mandatory for all sixth form students prior to their arrival at higher education. The course would likely include Bystander Intervention Training (BIT), because quite frankly, “Women’s lives and education are at stake”.
It was a very busy weekend for the 65,000 members of the Women’s equality party, with a minimum of seven talks being presented simultaneously at any given time. There was so much going on in fact, that I forgot to take a lunch break, which is something that just doesn’t happen to me. I had to be reminded to take a break by my editor Alex Brock, because apparently a cup of coffee at 9am doesn’t qualify as a good breakfast. Eventually, I managed to sneak in a salmon and cream cheese sandwich (feminism is hungry work), before heading over to listen to an absolutely brilliant speech delivered by Sophie Walker, the Party Leader.
The moving speech was centred around the party’s aims and objectives, of course, but also on the need for inclusion and an acceptance of not just all women, but all people, irrespective of race, gender, class, disability and sexuality. There seemed to be an acknowledgement of the fact that the conference hall was indeed packed to a large extent with white women, but also the reminder that this was by no means the entry requirement. Feminism is about equality. And equality is for every single one of us. I applaud Sophie Walker for stressing the importance of this issue, because in a world where “Brexit means Brexit” and misogyny and racism Trump liberal political ideals, we all need to remember that, “Our inequalities are inextricably bound together”.
The Women’s Equality Party intends to build on what the Suffragettes started 113 years ago, by encouraging women to not only vote but to run for office as well. This doesn’t mean that the party’s primary goal is to control Parliament per se, their aim is to ensure that all politicians share their passion for women’s issues, hence the Cross-party panel that was held earlier that day. Issues regarding: the abortion laws in Northern Ireland, the Benefits cuts that harm women and the ways in which online porn may be fuelling sexual violence against women, just to name a few, is what this party is all about. So from 8am on a Saturday, while you were sleeping, some of us were making history and WE really hope you’ll join us next time.