Women’s Equality Party Announces its Leader

Before leaving a Southbank Centre talk with three MPs ahead of this year’s general
election, Catherine Mayer proposed the idea that “Ukip, and obviously this is not our model, have stolen votes from the mainstream, forcing leading parties to take their agenda seriously.

“Let’s form a women’s party and see what happens,” she said. “I’ll be in the bar afterwards if anyone wants to discuss it.”

This was four months ago. She’s since founded and now presides over the Women’s Equality Party, with Sandi Toksvig as co-founder, and 58 branches across Britain. 1,300 people joined on the first day the WEP opened for membership, staking its claim as the fastest growing political party in the UK. With tens of thousands of volunteers, its official launch in September and an aim to field political candidates in 2020, it’s now found its first leader.

Sophie Walker, a journalist, runner and campaigner, said “I’d got so used to political debate overlooking the issues that matter to me that until recently I’d forgotten what it felt like to be inspired,” in the WEP’s official announcement that she’d been elected as leader. “I say until recently, because when Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig launched the Women’s Equality Party this year, all that changed. The moment I heard, like so many others, I put my hand up and said: I have to be involved.”

She’s completely new to politics, but she’s been campaigning since her eldest daughter Grace was diagnosed with autism. An ambassador for the National Autistic Society, and author of Grace under Pressure, a book about the experience of raising an autistic child, she’s spent several years trying to raise support for autistic children and their families. Walker is also concerned by the objectification and gender stereotypes her daughters are dealing with in their school lives, and is troubled by the fact that they are facing the same obstacles as her mother was in the 70s.

“I look at my daughters (age 13 and 6) and think I really don’t want them to be the third generation having those conversations,” she’s said to the Telegraph. “But it’s already happening. My youngest girl loves science and superheroes, but is constantly made to feel they’re not appropriate for her gender. My eldest daughter has to navigate a highly sexualised environment because lad culture is rife in schools and girls are under pressure to look and behave a certain way.”

Her daughters’ situations are covered in the WEP’s skeleton list of goals, except for Grace’s autism, how it will affect her adult life, and the impact it currently has on her mother’s work. The vagueness of their aims was a cause of concern for us, and no doubt many others wanting to give the WEP their full support. But Walker has stated “We’re asking the people to write our policies,” explaining that “It’s about opening up the political game to real people… It’s inevitable that we’ll be accused of being a group of white, middle-class women. But the committee has got disabled people, men, women of black and ethnic minority race and gay people. And that spread really goes through our branches, too.”

We’re thrilled that everyone will be able to contribute to the WEP’s policies, as this confirms that the party has real ambition to achieve equal rights and representation,
and is sure to bolster the support they’ve already gained. And Walker is just as hopeful, saying “in five years I think we will have won seats in elections. Looking at the tidal wave of support, I’d be very surprised if we hadn’t managed to take this mainstream.”

Words by Beth O’Neill

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