The Women’s Equality Party policy: is a disappointment a disappointment when you expected it to be disappointing?

Content warning: this post discusses domestic violence, sex work stigma, and detention centres.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure about the Women’s Equality Party, right off the bat, because, well, I’m an anarchist and I don’t believe the party political model is any use in achieving the changes that we need. I’m also usually quite concerned about media-friendly feminist initiatives, as they often contain watered-down or outright bad politics.

Having now read WE’s policy launch document in its entirety, my fairly low expectations have been met.

Perhaps the biggest blow is their coming out in support of the Nordic model in their claim to be keen on ending violence against women. All the Nordic Model does is expose women doing sex work to men who don’t give a shit about committing a crime–which doesn’t exactly make women safer. A preferable and safer model is Amnesty International’s evidence-based favoured policy: complete decriminalisation. It’s notable that the WE policy document is completely unreferenced (not just regarding sex work, but in all places): in stark contrast to Amnesty’s own.

Before I go off on everything else I disagree with, I’m going to say some nice things: I think asking for transparency about media representation, board representation and gender pay gaps, provided by companies, is not a bad idea–actually, it’s quite a good one, though I doubt it’s one that could be implemented without losing a lot of friends (including those coveted media organisations). I’m quite pleased to see that consent education in schools is a priority, as well as the migrant women in detention centres, and valuing care work. I’m also pleased to see a focus on dual discrimination and reinstating its position in law.

However, even the bits I liked, I don’t think they go anywhere near far enough. It’s nice that WE care about better sex and relationships education, although there was not a peep about undoing the still-present legacy of section 28, and make education about being LGBT a priority too. After all, a lot children will grow up to be lesbians, bisexuals or trans women, and they matter enormously. Reviewing the conditions in detention centres is all well and good, as is ending the practice of detaining pregnant women, but that’s nowhere near enough to go up against the violences migrant women face: detention itself is a violence. Valuing care work is nice, but how about requiring wages for housework and care labour, even if it’s someone in your own family–after all, women bear the brunt of care work.

Then there’s the stuff I actively abjure, in particular, quotas. Quotas won’t do diddly squat for improving the conditions of most women. The only women that quotas for political posts, board positions and enterprise would help are the kind of women who are already doing fucking well out of life: the kind of women who end up in politics or business. That’s not most of us. Just having a woman in a position doesn’t make a difference: see, for example, the results of the latest election, where women’s representation is at an all-time high and yet women are still totally, hands-down fucked. Then there’s the equality quotas for teachers: WE admit that there’s more women than men in teaching, particularly at primary schools, then say, “WE will explore the feasibility of implementing gender quotas for primary level teacher training and women as head teachers.”. This sounds to me like they are advocating for quotas to ensure more men in a certain profession. Yes, that’s equality, but wow, that is very bad for women.

Of course, I have issues with equality itself. I prefer liberation. WE’s policy document shows neatly where equality rhetoric falls down, with the aforementioned quotas to lock women out of a profession and their working with organisations that centre the needs and feelings of men, such as the Fatherhood Institute. This pandering to men can lead to disastrous consequences: for example, in WE’s policy on relationship breakdowns and shared parenting, they “will work to build a general social and legal expectation of the full involvement of both parents in the lives of their children even if the parents are not together, unless there is a pattern of violence or clear risk to either parent or child.”. That sounds OK, until you think about it. A “pattern” of violence is a difficult thing to establish, without involving support services and the state, which many women will be unwilling to do. WE’s own policy on prosecuting domestic violence is completely flimsy and there’s fuck all on helping make it easier for women to report, so reporting probably won’t increase. Therefore, women will end up having to keep abusers in their lives, because of WE’s shift towards expecting to keep them in their lives.

Another key concern in terms of partnerships is how WE say “WE are proud of the policies in this document but we encourage other political parties to work with us to deliver them, or simply to steal them. We just want to see them delivered, however that happens.”. Would they go into coalition with, say, UKIP, if UKIP promised to deliver the Nordic Model? It sure as shit sounds that way. And that is not OK. Not OK at all. Sadly, to be effective, feminism has to be political. Truly political. Truly conscious of who our friends and enemies are. It’s not enough to work with just anyone who will implement things off a shopping list.

I kind of wanted to not have to poo-pooh yet another women’s initiative. I’m fucking tired of having to do this, over and over again, and I don’t like always having to be Ms Meanypants. But there was little in the policy document for me to like, and lots for me to worry about.

Huge thanks to @rentalcustard for sending me the policy document while WE’s website was down

Further reading:

A Women’s Party? Less WEP, more like WEEP for the Mothers and Children (The Politics of Mothering)- Examining how the policy does very little indeed for mothers and children.

Sandi Toksvig’s Women’s Equality Party is a middle-class ladies’ campaign group doomed to fail (Abi Wilkinson)- Delving into the conspicuous absence of anything that could help working class women.

The Women’s Equality Party: A Surveillance State in the name of Liberal Feminism (sarahlicity)- A critical look at WE’s alternative to the Nordic model which is fucking terrifying.

6 thoughts on “The Women’s Equality Party policy: is a disappointment a disappointment when you expected it to be disappointing?”

  1. Its so vapid and middle of the road the support for the Swedish Model, which is not mainstream, kind of shines out. Either they have been told how much money there is in the rescue industry, or as has happened before, the antis made sure they got control of the sex work policy. This is the problem with most of UK feminism operating in a tiny London focussed bubble.

    1. I suspect bits of both. They’d need to raise income from somewhere, and the rescue industry is a big money spinner. And like most politics, it takes place in the utterly toxic London bubble.

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