'Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue' - Derbyshire campaigners speak out

Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue – when women fulfil their potential, everyone benefits.

Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:10 am
Members of Women's Equality Party Derbyshire at Finish The Walk Derby Hosted By Derby Womens Centre

That is the message from the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), which was established in 2015 as a ‘collaborative force in British politics’ with objectives to achieve equality in health, representation, pay and opportunity, parenting and caregiving, education, media treatment and end violence against women and girls.

Since its inception, the party has continued to gain momentum and now has over 50 branches campaigning on local issues across the UK – one of the most recent being right here in Derbyshire.

It was formed in March this year and has seen a record number of women joining it’s Facebook page, in part due to the national conversation around female safety following the deaths of women such as Sarah Everard and Chesterfield’s Gracie Spinks.

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Members of WEP Derbyshire meet at marches and vigils, as pictured (photo: Helen Barker Photography)

But why is the Women’s Equality Party needed and how can women in Derbyshire get involved? Our reporter Alana Roberts has been speaking to some of the women behind the county’s branch to find out more.

Kate Burns, co-leader of the Derbyshire WEP, said: “We’re called the WEP but the existence of the party and what we’re here for is not about saying that women are better than men, that we want more than men, or that we have a problem with men.

"As women, it’s not about us standing alone and shouting about all these issues, it’s about equality and how we can work together. Men can be members of the WEP as well.

"I’d commented as the WEP on a Derbyshire Times article about the gender pay gap. There were some very interesting replies on Facebook from men however there was one man who had put a lovely quote which was basically saying to all the other men, don’t worry a rising tide raises all ships.

Frances Sussex, treasurer for the Derbyshire branch of the Women's Equality Party

"I thought it was brilliant – equality is not about somebody losing out and somebody else gaining, it will be of benefit for everyone. We’re stronger together, that’s what the WEP is all about. We're not out there to say we think men have it easy, we’re not out there to say that men are bad, we're out there to say that we could all have it better.”

Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics revealed the latest gender pay gap figures which have been declining slowly over time; falling by approximately a quarter among both full-time employees and all employees over the last decade.

It showed that in April 2021, the gap was 7.9 per cent among full-time employees, up from 7 per cent in 2020 but still below the gap of 9 per cent in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Frances Sussex was the Education Movement Builder on Policy Committee when the WEP was first established and is now the treasurer for the Derbyshire branch.

Claire Taylor, data officer and WEP founder member

She spoke of everyday sexism and a recent ‘highlight moment’ in which she noticed a shift away from this.

"I volunteer for Peak District National Park and was out the other day with a group of several volunteers, teacher and children,” she said. “That event would not have happened in the same way for me when I was a child.

"There were big bits of equipment such as saws, small bits of equipment like secateurs, there were small jobs to do. The children chose what they wanted to do and if they wanted to do the light jobs they were then moved on to encourage them to do the bigger jobs.

"It wasn’t a case of ‘oh I bet you boys want to use the saws’ or ‘here you are girls here’s the smaller bits’.

Kate Burns, co-lead of Women's Equality Party Derbyshire

"It wasn’t like that at all and I think the language in society is so powerful. One of the issues why sexism still exists is because we’ve got so used to the subtle things, we’re so accepting in society of the things that feed into sexism; the little things that might have everyday that make women believe that it’s normal and it’s OK to be treated unequally.

"Getting it right, as Kate said, benefits everybody. Those little girls and those little boys were able to see that they were equal together, they had the same opportunities.

"It’s the same, there were children there who had additional learning needs, disabilities – it’s making sure that everyone has an equal chance whatever their characteristics.

Kate said: “It has come of leaps and bounds and that’s brilliant, the way that people think about things and the fact the WEP exists, however there are some things where it’s the same argument over and over and that can be tiring if you think you’re having that argument or debate by yourself.

"That’s one thing that I have personally got out of being a member of the WEP Derbyshire.

"We’ve joined up with other organisations, for example the Derby End Violence Against Women and Girls Coalition, and I think there’s something so powerful about with other people, men and women, who know what you’re saying.

Members of WEP Derbyshire at Finish the Walk, an event around women's safety on our streets

"Activism is exhausting but it doesn’t feel as tiring when you’re together and I think that togetherness is really powerful.”

Claire Taylor, WEP Derbyshire data officer and WEP founder member, added: “It’s everything from hanging out with like-minded people, to going to a demonstration, to getting advice.

"It is very slow but that’s the nature of growing an organisation.”

Still in its infancy, WEP Derbyshire is consulting women across the county on what issues they are most passionate about right now through an anonymous online poll.

The results will then help the group tailor their campaign going forward as they work to address issues relating to women in Derbyshire.

“We want women to know we’re here for them, no matter where they live in Derbyshire,” Frances said. “There’s big towns, rural villages and really rural isolation.

"Women in Derbyshire have very different experiences of life from me and others in the group. We’ve got the potential to represent and support people, to know what interests and concerns them, and that’s what who we want to be for.

"You don’t have to be political to join us… you can join us for many reasons.”

For more information or to become a member, message the WEP Derbyshire on Facebook, Twitter, or visit www.womensequality.org.uk/derbyshire.