The Women's Equality Party is a feminist political party set up in the United Kingdom in 2015. The idea was conceived by Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig at the Women of the World Festival, when they concluded that there was a need for a party to campaign for gender equality to the benefit of all. The launch meeting was on 28 March 2015 under the title "The Women's Equality Party needs you. But probably not as much as you need the Women's Equality Party". The party's full policy was launched by its then leader, Sophie Walker, at Conway Hall, on 20 October 2015. Its interim leader is Mandu Reid.
On 8 March 2015 (International Women's Day), at the same festival, comedian Sandi Toksvig presented an event entitled "Sandi Toksvig's Mirth Control: Stand Up and Be Counted". Interviewed by Jenni Murray on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Toksvig said: "I had a fantasy cabinet of women, and I didn't care which party they came from, we had Doreen Lawrence as our Home Secretary. Can you imagine anything more wonderful? We had paralympianTanni Grey-Thompson as our Sports Minister, and I asked them to put forward practical suggestions. The world is in a parlous state, 9.1 million women failed to vote in the last election, we need to attract them, we also need to attract the more than 7 million men who didn't vote. Why are people not engaged in politics, because I don't think that the people standing represent the diversity of this country." Mayer phoned Toksvig, and the two agreed to become co-founders of the party.
The party announced its first leadership contest in December 2017. Nominations opened on 5 January 2018, and closed on 24 January. Two candidates were nominated: interim leader Sophie Walker and Magda Devas, who had previously run for the Green Party in the Streatham Wells ward in the Lambeth London Borough Council election of 2010 and that of 2014. The ballot opened on 14 February 2018, and closed on 6 March; Walker was declared the winner on 8 March.
Walker was due to serve a five-year term until 2023, but stepped down from her role as leader in January 2019. She was replaced by interim leader Mandu Reid, the party's national spokesperson on equal parenting and caregiving, its candidate in the 2018 Lewisham East by-election, and the CEO of period poverty charity The Cup Effect.
The party's mission statement opens with: "Equality for women isn't a women's issue. When women fulfil their potential, everyone benefits. Equality means better politics, a more vibrant economy, a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population and a society at ease with itself".
Equal representation in politics and business;
Equal representation in education;
Equal treatment of women by and in the media;
Equal parenting rights;
An end to violence against women.
— Women's Equality Party, six stated goals of the party
Describing the six aims Mayer said, "It's a very narrow palette, we're not looking to be a party that can answer questions about what should be done in the Ukraine, or trying to have a platform on the environment or anything else, we are focusing absolutely narrowly on that equality agenda." Party leader Walker agreed: "We won't have policies on other issues. We are going to concentrate, laser-like, on all of the above, to make them happen. And we will welcome people from any other political party that agrees with our values of diversity and inclusivity to work with us." However, Walker promised that the party's working definition of the word "woman", as well as more detail of the party's policies, would be covered in its policy launch, following consultation with party members.
Early indications of what to expect included Walker's call for a gender quota system to select MPs at the following two elections so that equal representation could be achieved in the House of Commons by 2025. Walker also called for six weeks' paid leave, at 90% pay, for both parents after having a baby, as well as an extra 10 months of shared leave at statutory pay. Writing in the Daily Mirror, Toksvig stated that the party further proposed that industrial tribunal costs be reduced from over £1,000 to "£50 for those who can afford it" in order to "empower all women to speak out about sexism at work."
The party launched its full set of policies on 20 October 2015 at Conway Hall.
First party conference
The inaugural Women's Equality Party conference took place in Manchester on 25–27 November 2016, with opening speeches by founders Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig on the first day, and Sophie Walker's leader's speech on the second day.
Motions carried at the conference include: a motion to expand the UK's definition of hate crime to include misogyny; a motion to strengthen the legislation for carers who need flexible working arrangements; and a motion to fully decriminalise abortion across the UK (the current Abortion Act excludes Northern Ireland).
Additional party goal
A seventh goal of the party was added to the existing six at the party's first conference.
Equality in healthcare and medical research.
— Women's Equality Party, additional goal of the party.
Second party conference
The second party conference took place in Kettering in September 2018. Among the motions passed was one supporting the People's Vote campaign calling for a public vote on the final Brexit deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The party's name
The party's name was "debated and discussed at two public meetings". When Toksvig was asked why the party was named the Women's Equality Party, rather than just the Equality Party, she answered: "Because there is a huge issue, women are certainly not equal.... It's time that women, finally, after all these years, what is it, almost a hundred years since we finally got the vote, it's time we stepped up and took our equal place in society." She also stated the party's motto, "Equality is better for everybody". Mayer has also stated, "I’m very happy with the name: all genders are joining us and I hope they continue to. More than half the population is living in inequality and that is genuinely not good for everyone, economically or culturally."
Members of the Women's Equality Party at Trafalgar Square during the Pride in London 2016 parade
The party did not field any candidates in the 2015 general election, but planned to do so when the next election was assumed to be in 2020. Walker told BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement programme that the party would be taking a non-partisan approach to elections, stating that "We will be undertaking consultations with our members and deciding which seats to target". Figures from the party suggested that there was a possibility that an existing Member of Parliament (MP) might defect to the party before the party contested an election, citing the example of how the UK Independence Party got its first MPs. although this did not happen. Initially Walker neither ruled in or out the possibility of a WEP candidate in the 2016 London mayoral election: "We'd like to. It's a £20,000 losable deposit, though. If you're Zac Goldsmith that's not such a big deal but if a woman from a normal background wants to speak out for women and do it with the mayorship, automatically she's almost excluded". However, in October 2015, the party announced its intention to field candidates in the 2016 London Assembly election.
The WEP did not win any seats in the elections: Walker gained 53,055 votes (2.04%) in the first round of voting for London mayor. The party's best result was on the London-wide list where it finished sixth with 91,772 votes (3.5%).
Anne Beetham gained 2,091 votes (0.8%) in Glasgow and Lee Chalmers gained 3,877 votes (1.2%) in Lothian. Overall the WEP obtained 5,968 votes, 0.3% of the Scottish vote.
In the 2017 general election the party stood seven candidates. None were elected, and all lost their deposits. The best result among them was by Sophie Walker coming fourth in Shipley against the sitting Conservative MP Philip Davies, a men's rights and anti-political correctness campaigner. The full list of candidates is below:
The party put up candidates in more than 20 elections in the local elections of 2019.Note 2 The party saw its first Councillor, Kay Wesley, elected to Congleton Town Council. 33% of Congleton East voters supported the Women's Equality Party, which got 1250 votes.
Membership and local organisations
Reportedly, 1,300 people joined the party on the day that it opened up membership, which costs £4 per month. In the first financial year, the party raised £512,219 in membership fees. As of 13 October 2015[update], 65 local and regional Women's Equality Party groups had been founded, and as of July 2016[update] the party reported that it had 65,000 members. The WEP was described as "the fastest growing political force in the UK" in a Daily Telegraph article on the party's campaigning for the May 2016 London mayoral election. The party's membership reportedly grew from 25,000 to 55,000 in the month following the European Union membership referendum.
Fundraising and donations
The party's first fundraiser, held in front of 400 people, including businesswoman Martha Lane Fox, took place at Conway Hall on 9 June 2015. In September that year Toksvig announced the dates for a comedy tour to raise funds for the party. In the party's first year (ending 31 December 2015) £512,219 was raised through membership fees, £38,528 through fundraising activities and £79,212 was raised through donations.
The artist Damien Hirst created a piece of work for auction entitled "Spin Drawing for Women's Equality" (2015). The piece, which contained the party's colours, raised £20,000 when it was auctioned in April 2016. The artists Jake and Dinos Chapman also began a campaign, stamping the words "Womens Equality Party" onto 2p coins and then returning them into circulation. (Suffragettes had also defaced pennies.)
In the party's second year (ending 31 December 2016) £447,946 was raised through membership fees, £35,918 through fundraising activities and £261,394 was raised through donations.
A year prior to the creation of the WEP, Suzanne Moore suggested in The Guardian that a feminist party should be formed, saying: "the false doctrine of austerity has meant that women, single mothers in particular, and public sector workers in general, have been at the frontline of this war. They have been demonised and subject to punitive cuts." Writing in The Telegraph, Kate Maltby responded by saying, "My feminism is directly tied to a commitment to meritocracy and individual flourishing...if her [Moore's] grand new feminist party kicks off by nationalising private property, I'm hardly going to be able to sign up".
The British edition of GQ has also accused the party of "alienating 50 per cent of the electorate", adding that, "while the WEP may aim to appeal to both female Tory voters and female Labour voters, it doesn't take away from the implicit suggestion that the party – which aims for 'diverse' membership – is still aimed almost solely at women". The party has also been criticised "for being comprised mainly of white, middle-class affluent women".
The party has also been accused of being "both too ambitious and not ambitious enough", that, in order to maintain traction, it ought to concentrate on just one issue, e.g., quotas in the boardroom.