Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Men and Mayor

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Daniella Radice, the Green candidate  standing to become Mayor of Bristol, has produced the most comprehensive and detailed manifesto of policies of any of the candidates and has made a lot more sense than other candidates at the many hustings meetings held.  All the other candidates have been more vague, generalised, wishy-washy, incoherent and in some cases populist, where Daniella has offered real leadership. She is the only woman standing, which is a story in itself.

It’s important to discuss the fact that only one of the fifteen candidates for Mayor is a woman because: just 22% of MPs in the House of Commons and 20% of members of the House of Lords are women and women aren't in many positions of power and influence across society; 3 million women in the UK suffer rape, domestic violence, trafficking, forced marriage or other violence; 90% of local authorities do not have a rape crisis centre; of 109 High Court judges only 15 are women; women’s average net income per week in 2010 was £180 compared to £231 for men; 20% of people believe it is sometimes acceptable for a man to hit or slap his girlfriend; 36% believe a woman is partly responsible for being raped if she is drunk; 83% of experts cited in news stories are men; 19% is the proportion of women in news stories portrayed as victims, compared to 10% for men...Clearly our decision making would be better if women were present in positions of power and influence on a par with men.
We need to address the issue of disempowerment and the facts clearly illustrate why. Without strong and positive action it could take forever to achieve fair and balanced representation. We don’t get the best range of candidates for positions of power now because we have a system that on the whole continues to favour men and disempower women. We are wasting half the talent we have. The social system and within it the economic and political system is discriminatory, not always in the legal sense but certainly in the sense of culture/traditions. The right to fair and equal treatment that I'm arguing for is a human right that putting into action would benefit every person.

In broad terms I am saying that if there was no sex discrimination there would be many more women candidates for Mayor of Bristol. Some question this, saying there is no discrimination in the mayoral process itself: doubtless the rules would be illegal if they were directly discriminatory so no surprise there!! But the mayoral election does not take place in total isolation from the social, economic and political context – and we can’t yet say that there is nothing in our social system at all that deters and discourages women from coming forward as candidates (see list and link below). For instance: the costs involved in applying to become Bristol Mayor are a deterrent to many who might otherwise consider standing – however the high cost will discriminate more against women than men because women’s average income and other wealth levels are lower. Discriminatory social, economic and political context deters and discourages women. Some admit that discrimination exists but stick to the unsustainable, implausible position that it has no effect at all on women coming forward to stand in elections such as for Mayor!
In 2008 an Inter-Parliamentary Union reported said that these factors deter women from entering politics to at least a fair degree: Domestic responsibilities; Prevailing cultural attitudes regarding the roles of women in society; Lack of support from family; Lack of confidence; Lack of finances; Lack of support of political parties; Lack of experience in "representative functions": public speaking, constituency relations; Lack of support from the electorate; Lack of support from men; Lack of support from other women; Politics seen as "dirty" or corrupt; Lack of education. See

Take nursing and primary school teaching as examples in addition to being a Mayor. Stereotyping of male/female roles due to sexism results in men and women tending to be deterred and discouraged from coming forward for certain jobs, for example women for Mayor of Bristol - and elected and other positions of power generally - and men for nursing and primary school teaching. It’s not uncommon to find some arguing that not all jobs are equally appealing because of 'natural tendencies' ie women aren't coming forward to be Mayor because they are not 'naturally' suited to it – ‘men and women are different, in most ways’  as someone said to me recently. Different yes but different in most ways no – and of course there are differences between people of the same sex! Men and women have a huge amount in common - they are equally capable for example of being Mayor, though some suggest otherwise. Sexists argue that we have one woman candidate in fifteen for Mayor of Bristol because men and women 'want different things' and therefore women don’t want to be Mayor and its all down to inherent reasons with no effect from sex discrimination in our society at all. What a load of utter nonsense.
The sexists are assuming that what men and women do is what they want; is where their talents and abilities are; that they have no latent, suppressed capacity for anything else; that this wont/cant and does not need to change...and that its only what men and women inherently 'are' that affects what they do ie there is zero effect from the society, the economy and the political system that men and women live in.

My favoured party – the Greens - do not knowingly or deliberately (and certainly not blatantly) discriminate against women in its processes but  it does exist in a social, economic and political context which does discriminate and this does have effects. It is working continually to do better, has a women leader, Natalie Bennett...its ex-leader and its first MP, Caroline Lucas, is a woman...the Greens fielded a good number of women candidates at the last general election (a higher % than other parties I think) compared to the 20% of MPs that are women  but the Greens must do better as other political parties and society in general must!! 100% of Green MPs and 50% of Bristol’s Green Councillors are women by the way :) but the party can only choose from those who come forward not from its whole membership.  Even in the Greens fewer women come forward because the social context deters and discourages them. There is no inherent reason why they would not come forward.