Phenomenon

Catherine Mayer: “We will work with anyone, any party who wants gender equality”

The founder of Britain’s fastest-growing political party says the sole language that the political world understands is “the power of the ballot box”

The U.K. Women’s Equality Party (WEP) is yet to celebrate its first birthday but has already become Britain’s fastest-growing political party, spawning 65 local branches nationwide and attracting thousands of new members each month.

On the eve of the party’s first formal policy launch, WEP co-­founder Catherine Mayer told the audience at the Women in the World Summit in London that British women’s extraordinary enthusiasm for a party devoted solely to female equality “continued to surprise.”

The American-born, British journalist said the party was the product of a kind of “accidental discussion” she had had with her friend, the comedienne and BBC personality, Sandi Toksvig. Mayer recalled that the idea initially came to her during a meeting with female MPs in London last year. “We were talking about what parties could do for women and it became very obvious that no ­one had faith in those women MPs to deliver change. And yet there we all were, agreeing and being collegiate.”

“So I stood up and said maybe the way to move things forward is to do for gender equality what UKIP [the anti­-immigration U.K. Independence Party] did for the immigration debate. Okay, it’s not an obvious comparison but if you have an issue that appeals to voters, you can then grab attention of the mainstream parties. So I rang Sandi and she had had the same idea.”

Mayer, who last year authored a controversial biography of Britain’s Prince Charles, said the sole language that the political world understands is “the power of the ballot box.”

“We have had some fantastic women’s groups doing great work but the pace of change has been so slow, glacial in fact,” she said.

“So we thought we’d grab the attention of the mainstream parties and if they steal our policies, if they want to sound more like us , which is what they did with UKIP,­ well it’s a win either way for us because gender equality goes to the top of the agenda.”

The Australian author Kathy Lette asked Mayer if she had any faith that “blokes” like the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron who participated in all-male, drinking clubs when at university might be sympathetic to the new party.

Referring to recent allegations of the PM’s involvement in a university sexual rite with a pig — “He puts the chauvinist in pig right?” — Lette said she couldn’t imagine many British male leaders supporting WEP ideals.

Mayer laughed that she needed “mind bleach” when talking to Lette but insisted that gender equality and the party’s agenda was good for all of society, for the economy, for business, for men as well as women and children.

She said the six major planks of WEP’s policy were deliberately narrow and would benefit all of society, focusing on equal pay, equality of education, equality in responsibility for parenting and care­-giving, equal representation by and for women in the media, and an end to violence against women.

“These are not women’s issues, they are people issues. We are also resolutely non-partisan. We will work with anyone, any party who wants gender equality and we allow our members to be members of other political parties,” Mayer said.

“Get involved, join up. Wouldn’t it be great if Britain, which has been struggling with identity, could become the first place in the world to really institute gender equality?”

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