Last week, I said that Liberal Democrats should use the word feminist much more than we do. Women Liberal Democrats has done so much to advance policy on women’s equality over the years and its successor Liberal Democrat Women has a bright future ahead of it. However, women’s hard won rights are under attack all over the world, whether it’s the disgrace of female genital mutilation practised at home or abroad, domestic violence, employment rights, rape culture or abortion rights. Projects like Everyday Sexism expose a misogyny that is engrained in the country’s psyche. It’s time that we articulated a liberal and radical message to contribute to cultural change. I think we’ve been too shy about standing up for women’s rights over the years and that has to change.
Being a feminist is not scary. It’s purely about women and men being treated equally before the law and given equal opportunities and a level playing field.
So I was very pleased to see an interview with Jo Swinson in Saturday’s Guardian in which she happily and unashamedly used the F word and I’d defy anybody to find anything remotely worrying in what she said.
Jo talked about how excited and delighted she was to be putting through legislation on shared parental leave:
The piece of legislation that I’m so excited and delighted to be doing is shared parental leave.” She’s helped push through a system that will allow new parents to choose how they share a year’s worth of leave after the birth of their child. ”And changing that legislation is a really good example of how we’re not going to change culture overnight, but how the government has a role to make sure the structures in place reflect modern living.
She was asked if a male MP would have fought as hard for this legislation, which was slightly exasperating. A tiny bit of research would have shown that Jo has not been the only driving force behind it – it’s been something championed by Nick Clegg for a long time, too.
Wiseman put the idea to Jo that men are in politics for the power, women to make a difference:
She sighs, and I blush. “I’m a massive feminist,” she says, gesticulating precisely, eye contact unfaltering, “but I think it’s a little unfair on the other sex saying they’re not in it to change the world.”
How do we get more women into the House of Commons?
”I think we need the right solution for the right problem,” she says opaquely. “And it might not be the same for every party. So if there is sexism in the selection process then maybe you do need quotas. But in our party, the problem was far too few women candidates coming forward for seats.” She says they’re making progress with a leadership programme, encouraging people from under-represented backgrounds to become MPs, but it all comes back to “wider issues around the voting system, and challenges around getting equality within politics”.
It was particularly good to see that the interviewer, Eva Wiseman, admit to changing her opinion and becoming more sympathetic towards the Body Confidence campaign, which has had some success in the past 18 months:
It’s this sluggish move forward she’s particularly making me aware of – first the acknowledgement that there’s a problem, and then the investigation into what brought us to this point, and then, finally, the slow fight, whether against sexual harassment at work or negative body image. Since the body-image inquiry, the marketing director of Boots says that what was acceptable 18 months ago in terms of manipulating and “airbrushing” images is not acceptable now, and I believe her. A politician’s life moves fast, I realise, but the changes they make can feel excruciatingly slow. “The debate is changing,” Swinson says, “because people want it to change.”
You can read the whole article here.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings