Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Why I'm Considering Joining the Women's Equality Party (WEP) As An Affiliate Member

Last Saturday I was having a great conversation with a trans Twitter friend over Labour's current fortunes in the polls and how we both hoped that the percentage of voters considering voting Labour at the next GE would increase during this year. Andie drew my attention to the fact that there are many potential voters who voted Remain in the EU Referendum who are slightly confused by Labour's message on Brexit and Immigration and so decided to explore other political parties who she may consider giving her vote to should a GE happen. Andie asked an interesting question about one of the parties who could be considered as appealing to a Left-leaning voter, the Women's Equality Party (WEP)- what is the party's stance on transgender issues? One of the WEP's co-founders, Catherine Mayer linked Andie to their first policy document, from October 2015 and decided to check it out (you can do the same here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/womensequality/pages/405/attachments/original/1445332098/WE_Policy_Launch.pdf?1445332098). The initial answer to Andie's question is that the WEP has a positive stance on trans issues, as well as supporting the identity choices of non-binary folks: WE "recognise that the binary words "woman" and "man" do not reflect the gender experience of everyone in our country, and support the right of all to define their sex or gender or to reject gendered divisions as they choose"(p4). As I read through the policy document I was amazed at how many bold policy proposals were being made by the party and how many I agree with and would actually vote for, should a WEP candidate stand in my home city and marginal constituency seat of Lincoln. I thought I'd share my thoughts about a few of them in a blogpost in a bid to show you what sorts of policies Labour, Lib Dems, SNP and Greens could consider adopting in the future to make their platforms bolder and even more effective around gender equality.

1. Equal Pay Policies:
  • I love the idea that WE want a comprehensive approach to make larger firms in the UK be more transparent about the pay levels set for male and female employees. I can't see any reason as to why companies with more than 250 employees cannot produce an annual report on pay, which breaks numbers down by gender identity, disability and ethnicity within different hierarchical levels of the company and including information on employment status and working hours. The recommendation for data on retention of staff after they've taken parental leave is important because workers in the company should know if discriminative measures have been taken to try and dissuade parents from wanting to stay in the same job with the company.
  • I like the fact WE wants to extend this to companies with more than 50 employees and those firms that want to secure government contracts. Bosses may think this is more "red tape" bureaucracy but workers and taxpayers have a right to know whether their firm is really committed to reducing pay gaps for disabled workers or BAME workers as well as seeing a reduction in the gender pay gap.
2.Workplace Discrimination:
  • WE recognises that more workplace discrimination claims should be settled without going through an Employment Tribunal process and want use conciliation and mediation processes do this. ACAS should be strengthened and more widely promoted in the workplace so that employees know their rights should they face discrimination.
  • However, should such mediation processes fail, WE want to make sure employees who have faced discrimination can bring their case to an EAT. They want to reduce the issuing fee from £250 to £50 and remove the hearing fee of £950. Fee remissions for those on low incomes would remain in place, which is great news.
  • WE want to give power back to EATs to advise employers who have been found guilty of discriminatory practices on their HR policies to develop best practice.
  • WE also want to increase the "grace period" for employees who are parents from 3 to 9 months in any case that involves maternity discrimination or denial of paid parental leave.
  • Interestingly, WE will also allow employees to bring dual discrimination claims by restoring the Equality Act 2010 provisions. That means an employer can be brought to court for discriminating against a Black trans person if the discriminatory act centered around their race and gender reassignment surgery. It shouldn't be an either/or case.
3. Older Women Workers Rights:
  • I like the idea that WE are considering creating a consultation process between the Government employers and employees on trying to find a better work-caregiving balance for those who are responsible for looking after children, their partners or other family members. Allowing employees to take longer career breaks is an interesting idea, and I wonder if young LGBTQIA/BAME professionals can be given the opportunity to step into the role of those who are on caregivers leave so they can be given a greater opportunity to learn the knowledge and skills needed to progress in their own careers.
  • Reducing stigma around the menopause is vital in the workplace; HR professionals need to work with their employers to help debunk stereotypes.
4. Flexible Working Opportunities For All:
  • Flexible working opportunities need to be increased within the workplace; it should no longer be the case that asking for a better work-life balance, especially if you are going through the transitioning process or need more time to look after your children if you are a father or mother is seen as "shirking" work responsibilities. Employers can change office opening hours, encourage flexible working employees to do help grow the firm's presence in different countries by being available during their office hours and more employees can be encouraged to work from home- i.e. teleworking.
    • I don't see anything wrong in requiring jobs advertised by companies on Universal Jobmatch and those employing more than 250 employees to spell out what forms of flexible working are available/suitable for the post- e.g. can you job share, are there flexible working hours, can you telework etc and show them in the form of a checklist. Employers should have to justify why they can't offer flexible working, rather than expecting jobseekers to ask the question at the interview, only to be told there is no such flexible working approach in place.
    • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) should work with SMEs to discover cost-effective ways of allowing employees to telework and help them with the initial start-up costs involved-e.g. providing secure equipment for employees to use.
    • If you submit a request for flexible working (as I did when I worked in a Vodaphone call centre), you should be able to feel as if your request is being taken seriously-e.g. HR department needs to set up a meeting between you and your manager(s) to talk through your proposal. If this isn't granted, then why not be able to support a claim for unreasonable refusal of a request and unreasonable refusal to offer a trial period? WE want to see compensation for any claim that is proved by an EAT and it might deter employers from having a no-flexible working policy in the future.
5.Valuing Carers:

I've personally had enough of caregivers being stigmatised as "economically inactive" or "shirkers" by those who are lucky enough not to have caregiving responsibilities that require them to give up work. So I'm glad that WE are wanting to remove such a label from Labour Force Surveys for those caregivers, and to ensure that National Insurance contributions should be accrued for them for the time spent giving care. A review of the system should be taking place now under the Conservative Government, but I hope that any Labour Government would adopt this WE proposal and think about awarding credits by default to parents and carers in the future, regardless of their age, gender or sexuality.

6. Equality in Education:

Anyone who has been an avid reader of my blogs may already know that I care deeply about equality in education. I've called for an end to homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying and for the implementation of statutory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in schools that includes lessons on consent, intersexuality and asexuality and gender identity, so that students know that it's OK not to be interested in sex or to adhere to "traditional" notions of gender identification. This isn't "left-wing" or "liberal"; it's making sure that young people understand the reality of living in the modern world. That's why I'm pleased to see a comprehensive strategy from WE on this issue:
  • WE want to make Gender Equality a stand-alone criterion for the inspection of schools across the UK. Early year education providers would "create self-assessments on the implementation of their action plans on gender equality" (p16).
  • WE want to make sure that children under 5 learn about gender equality.
  • WE want to make sure all schools, including Academies and Free Schools would provide a gender audit of the National Curriculum so they are promoting female role models (and LGBTQIA ones too I hope). It should be the case that children learn about Marie Curie in Science or Caroline Haslett in Engineering/History lessons or Iris Murdoch for GCSE/A Level English Literature or Philosophy lessons.
  • WE are right that we need to recruit more male primary school teachers and into childcare centres. Ending the stigma around men wanting to enter a caring profession is important in this. Most young men probably had no idea they could be able to work as social workers either. Careers advice needs to be unbiased, delivered by external experts to help young people explore all of their options. These experts should be able to be audited. Compulsory work experience should be reintroduced for all 14 and 15 year olds (Year 10) and try and encourage employers to consider placements in non-traditional roles-e.g. more placements for girls who want to work in STEM, more placements for trans men who want to work for an MP etc.
  • I think it's amazing that WE wants all teenagers to study a Level 3 qualification in English or a STEM subject alongside their choices post 16 until they are 18. As all students currently study English, Maths and Science to 16, this could mean more students taking A Level English Literature or Maths or even Chemistry, further increasing their skills base and making them more attractive to employers post-18.
  • Gender quotas should be looked into, especially in relation to getting more women teachers into educational leadership roles such as becoming secondary school head teachers. More mentoring schemes will help improve their chances too.
  • Fathers need to engage more with their children, especially around reading. That's why I'd support any attempt to promote the Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED) scheme in nurseries and primary schools. Justine Greening and the Conservative Government should be doing this already.
  • Finally WE will continue to push for implementation of #SRE, ensuring that lessons are delivered by qualified, specialist teachers and providers. Universities and colleges will be told to offer compulsory workshops for all students and staff regardless of gender or sexuality on respect, equality and consent in an effort to combat rape culture. This can only be a good thing!
7. Equality in the Media:

I am conscious of the portrayal of women in the media. As a trans woman I've seen that it is not always positive and newspaper articles, commentaries, even plays can reinforce stereotypes of trans women as sexual predators, as mentally ill or "dressed like prostitutes". This clearly needs to end. So I was pleased to read the WEP's proposals to try and tackle stereotyping:
  • Sexualisation and "asexualisation" without consent needs to be challenged. We can't keep reinforcing a stereotype of disabled women as being forced to be asexual, or Muslim women choosing to wear the hijab as being oppressed by their father. In relation to sexual violence and domestic violence, it is absolutely vital that there are vocal challenges against any advertisements that may be interpreted objectively as supporting acts of sexual violence or domestic violence.
  • Journalistic articles need to be audited for gender bias. If the writer or presenter has chosen to focus on a politicians article of clothing or make-up or whether they happen to be single, gay or a parent as a starting point rather than addressing their policy argument, and they wouldn't do the same to a heterosexual male politician, then stand up and challenge them to explain why they did this. Hopefully they'll learn from their mistake next time!
  • I think it's an interesting policy idea to make it compulsory for newspapers and magazines to say whether their pictures have been airbrushed (or digitally altered) through a disclaimer. It should be absolutely the case that children are not airbrushed.
  • I'd love to see WE promoting positive portrayals of trans women and non-binary people. An annual awards programme sounds very intriguing and I'm sure it'd be a badge of honour for any creative person to be invited, shortlisted or awarded for their efforts.
  • Encouraging major broadcasters to set out diversity guidelines to be followed when commissioning new shows is a great idea and should be included in the BBC charter renewal as WE are suggesting. I'd love for Labour to push for this too.
  • Online and social media wise:
    •  I'd support any policy push for harsher sentences against website operators "who intentionally post and then refuse to remove revenge pornography" (p28) making them accountable for their actions. Any civil remedy to allow victims to seek justice against perpetrators, trolls and website operators will be welcome and granting anonymity for victims is an absolute must.
    • Police officers need more training so they can handle evidence concerning online abuse more effectively- it simply isn't good enough that 75% of police officers feel they don't know the correct procedure to help online victims.
    • A "Report" button that's easy to see on a social media platform is a good idea. Providers such as Twitter should then be made to publish the outcome of the report. This may be difficult as Facebook and Twitter are American based, but it's worth a shot pushing for it.
8. Equal representation:
  • I am sympathetic to WE's suggestion that 66% of candidates replacing retiring MPs should be women but this may be difficult to implement. The current suggestion by the Women and Equalities Committee seems to be that we should aim for a target of 45% of MPs being women by 2030 and I believe this should include queer and trans women. It's frustrating to see that trans people have no representation in our main Parliament and it'd be amazing to see the WEP be able to lead the way on this. Maria Miller is right to suggest that fines should be levied against the Government if political parties do not take action to address the "democratic deficit". Encouraging more women to stand for Parliament in marginal constituencies would be one way of increasing representation at the next General Election and "all women shortlists" do serve a purpose.
  • I do want to see 50% of the next Government's Cabinet to be held by women, and not just in "traditionally female ministerial roles". It's good to see Amber Rudd as Home Secretary and Diane Abbott as Shadow Home Secretary...both bring their expertise to the role and show that women can be just as competent as men. I'd love to see a transgender Cabinet Minister in the future, too!

As you can see, the WEP offer a lot of bold policy ideas that aim to improve equal opportunities in the UK. I may not agree with every policy as is, but the platform the WEP has provided is one that can be built on, especially if there is collaborative working with those in other political parties who are supportive of the need to see more positive gender stereotypes being espoused by British Media or to see Careers Advice services being reintroduced into schools that are impartial and aim to improve social mobility by letting young people know all of the options open to them. My desire to help break down barriers is one reason why I have become interested in UK Politics of late, and Hillary Clinton's attempt to become POTUS was very inspiring to see (even though I still have bundles of love for Bernie Sanders' progressive platform!)

There are a few transgender issue based questions that still need answering though:
  1. Will WE be sympathetic to improving Domestic Abuse and Domestic Violence service provision for transgender, non-binary, queer and gender fluid survivors? Would this mean supporting organisations such as GenderFreeDV to advocate for more funding for to make services accessible by creation of shelters for male survivors of DVA or making sure that non-binary survivors do not have their identity erased and focussed on their biology? It's a very nuanced, complicated debate but as Jess Phillips has acknowledged, one that needs to be had.
  2. Do WE support the right for non-binary and trans people to self-identify their gender, as is the case in Norway? Not just semantically but in relation to getting access to legal documents without needing a diagnosis/form from their sexologist or GP?
  3. Would WE support changing the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristic from that of Gender Reassignment Surgery to that of Gender Identity so that non-binary, queer and gender-fluid people are overtly covered by the same anti-discrimination legislation as trans people?
Finally a non-trans question:
  • Are WE considering fielding candidates with affiliate membership or will WEP try and convince parties such as Labour to consider changing their party policy so that a Labour-WEP member can stand in a marginal constituency such as Lincoln?
Reading the WEP policy statement has been an education in itself and I suggest any voter who currently considers themselves "politically homeless" give it a read and raise your own questions from it. WEP may not be a party you have considered before, but may be a party that you consider supporting in the future, either as a full member or as an affiliate. Even as an independent voter I'm swayed to join...that's how positive their platform seems to me! The youngest political party on the scene may not have received much attention before...is it time to change that?