Manchester, United Kingdom: Britain’s newly formed Women’s Equality Party is thrashing out topics such as unequal pay and the “disaster” of Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton to the White House, at its first ever conference this weekend.
The WEP’s debut congress since its formation in March last year is being held in a red-brick former warehouse close to Manchester United Football Club’s famous Old Trafford ground in the northwest English city.
In a symbolic move, the three-day conference opened Friday on the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Violence was among the numerous topics discussed in a bid to fashion an identity and a political programme for the party, born out of frustration at a perceived lack of consideration given to women’s rights in Britain.
Of course, Britain has a female head of state in Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Theresa May is its second woman prime minister after her fellow Conservative predecessor Margaret Thatcher.
The first ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland are also women.
But their prominence masks the true picture, argued WEP leader Sophie Walker, a former journalist, underlining that women were outnumbered in parliament’s lower House of Commons by two to one.
Furthermore, “two women a week are killed by their partner or their former partner” in Britain, she added. And women are still paid less than their male counterparts, on average.
“We are saying that women rights are human rights and human rights should be at the top of the political agenda,” she told AFP.
“There have been many many brilliant women’s pressure groups that have fought for women’s rights for decades,” she said, recalling the Suffragette movement of the early 20th century, battling for the right to vote.
However, “the pace of progress has been glacial”, she added.
“Unfortunately, the only way that you can force a political party to act is to threaten their share of the vote.”
Meanwhile property tycoon Trump’s election to the US presidency threatens to be “a disaster for women’s rights”, she added.
“It was a vote that said misogyny and racism doesn’t matter.”
During the election campaign, a 2005 tape surfaced of Trump bragging about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women, to the horror of WEP members.
“I don’t know if Clinton wasn’t elected because she is a woman,” said Lucie de Beauchamp, a French, 24-year-old student, who came to the conference from Glasgow.
“What bothers me the most is that Trump was voted in despite his vile comments about women.”
Walker contested the London mayoral election in May and came sixth out of 12 candidates, winning two per cent of the vote. The party scored 3.5 per cent in the parallel London Assembly elections.
Though it has not yet won any seats anywhere, the party has a reach of around 65,000 members and sympathisers. And they are not all women.
“The reason I’m here is equality is for everybody and everybody benefits from equality,” said Scott Matthewman, 46, after watching Walker’s speech.
“At the moment, the people who suffer the most from inequality are women,” said the Londoner, who works in IT — a sector, to his regret, which is still dominated by men.
“So now it’s up to men to listen.”