It’s just under three weeks until the EU referendum vote and right on cue the political parties are wheeling out their “women’s policies” as the pollsters remind them that there might be a few votes in this hitherto-overlooked special interest group.
Nigel Farage made an early (by these terms) bid for biological Brexit rationale, warning women are more likely to be raped if Britain continues its European Union membership. This is because of “big cultural issues” between British society and migrants, he told the Sunday Telegraph.
Normally I would be pleased to see politicians concerning themselves with violence against women at campaign time. During the recent election for London Mayor, neither Sadiq Khan nor Zac Goldsmith attended the hustings event at which soaring rates of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment were discussed. (They made it to others on business, housing, technology, the environment, cycling, disability and religious issues.)
But Farage’s crass Cologne caution has nothing to do with concern for women. He’s not really worried about the sex attacks in Germany on New Year’s Eve. What he’s doing is following the British election campaign recipe for female voters, which goes thus:
1. Firstly, allow your 32.2 million female voters to simmer for 4-6 weeks. Or months.
2. Meanwhile, prepare all your key ingredients – you can source these from 31 million men.
3. Approximately 14-21 days from voting, mix up your Women’s Statement – one large measure of safety and another of healthcare. No flavouring necessary.
4. If you are Nigel Farage, add an optional dose of anti-immigration narrative. (Warning: this can be toxic.)
It would be funny if it weren’t so desperately damaging to our democratic process and the rights of women in Britain.
As the weeks of the EU referendum campaign have ticked by, I have waited – and waited – to be addressed. I have watched debates dominated by male politicians and male voters and read articles dominated by men. (I’m not exaggerating: only 16 percent of referendum TV appearances have been made by women.)
I’ve listened to the regular narrative in which everyone is promised the freedom of individual economic empowerment, and waited for the version in which we discuss the economic decisions that are predominantly made by women in their households. What might be the impact of Brexit on the cost of childcare, of transport, of food, of living? Or the version where we talk about the structural inequalities that women face and how this might be, positively or negatively, affected by changes in economic and political power triggered by a Brexit.
I put aside my cynicism, and hoped that this time we would get something different. That this time we wouldn’t get a campaign for women focused on the last two weeks – the point at which women’s unwillingness to confirm to the YouGov phone pollster how they intend to vote on a national dialogue that has all but forgotten them, prompts a last-minute scramble for the same old policy recipe. Safety, or healthcare. Group-think based on no understanding of, or relationship with, the group. (Pink bus optional.)
But no, here we are again. And the biggest joke of course is that despite wheedling votes from us based purely on promises about our safety and our health, the likelihood politicians will then prioritise parliamentary action on either is nil, based on past performance.
I have no doubt that Farage’s comments – though, shockingly, still not condemned by any of the other party leaders – will be followed by similarly unsophisticated threats or unsatisfactory enticements to the ‘other’ half of the population.
The Women’s Equality Party is calling for women’s rights to be protected whatever the outcome of the vote on June 23. WE want to enshrine and extend women’s equality in the UK in case of Brexit and increase the European Union’s ambition for women if the UK retains its membership. (This week, for example, is carers week. The EU has very few policies outside of maternity protection that relate to women’s experience as carers. British legislative support is thin.)
The other thing we want to do is make this the last time an election looks like this. The only way we can salvage something from this overdone roast and collapsed souffle of a campaign is to write a new recipe.
The Women’s Equality Party is working on such a recipe. Join us, and let’s make sure that women’s voices – our needs and experiences – are heard loud and clear at the next national conversation.