Saturday, 26 April 2014

Why voting in the EU election is a feminist issue

Yes, in French, for added exotic allure..

I have finally fulfilled a lifelong ambition (well, okay, a six month long ambition) to get something published in the Feminist Times, the would-be Spare Rib de nous jours.  

My piece is about voting in the EU election being a feminist issue. A bit  like fat, if you like, but without the comfort-eating of delicious cakes.

You can read the whole piece in full here but this is the gist of my argument:

Don’t let our apathetic media, and the silence of our timid mainstream politicians, fool you into thinking the EU Election on May 22 does not matter. 

Don't let yourself be hypnotised into thinking that a UKIP triumph is inevitable: the UK is not Crimea; your vote counts (if you bother to cast it) and nothing at all is inevitable till the votes have been counted.

And please don't be seduced by the narrative that a UKIP triumph would actually be a desirable outcome, to shake things up or send some sort of message to complacent Westminster elites. 

A decisive UKIP win would do nothing to help the UK lead on reforms in Europe but would spell disaster for the cause of gender equality at UK and EU level.

The European Union has been promoting equality between men and women since its inception, enshrining the goal of equal pay for men and women in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. A Directive on Equal Pay was finally passed in 1975 to be followed by dozens of other pieces of EU legislation - against discrimination at work or in accessing services, combating violence, sexual harassment and people trafficking, establishing maternity rights and parental leave.

The EU funds national campaigns against gender-based violence and in the last 7 years has spent some €3.2 bn in Structural Funds to provide childcare and promote women’s participation in the labour market in Europe’s most economically depressed areas. The EU further promotes gender equality all over the wold with its humanitarian actions and through its trade agreements.

Now contrast this with UKIP’s view of women and their programme.
Their attitude towards women is often described as reminiscent of the 1950s, although my conservative grandfather would have been horrified by their language and sentiments.  Women are sluts, who should be seen (cleaning) and not heard; mothers are worthless to employers. 

And these are not just retired colonels, old fashioned fogeys – the Twitter trolls who tried to silence Women Against UKIP all last week are the party’s tech-savvy young guns, UKIP’s bullish, bullying future.

But worse than that their attitudes is their programme, insofar as they can articulate one. Make no mistake: the biggest advantage Nigel Farage sees in the UK withdrawing from Europe is that it would be able to return to the 1950s not just culturally but also in the law: no maternity leave or labour protection of any kind for the most vulnerable workers, who are often women; a bonfire of health and safety and anti-harassment legislations. This might resonate with chain-smoking pub landlords, (freedom of smoking is championed, by the way, freedom of movement less so), but it sure scares the hell out of me.

Last week we finally saw UKIP’s leader drop the genial ‘chap down the pub’ act when being questioned about his use of EU expenses. Chummy Nigel turned into Snarling Nigel, railing against the media that so far has idolised him for having the cheek of asking him to account for his actions, like any other politician.

Farage’s confusion about EU money not being, somehow, taxpayers’ money tells a bigger story about what you get when you vote for a UKIP candidate to represent you in Europe. Their goal is to destroy Europe not reform it or make it work in Britain’s favour.

In practice this means that after May 22, unless we feminists use our vote, even more UKIP MEPs will be flocking to the European Parliament to get their nose in every possible money trough, whilst disrupting sessions with their cheap stunts and insulting speeches, clogging committees, (including the Gender Equality Committee where so much of the above legislation is dealt with), not voting, not amending, not doing anything at all, and all at our expense, for the next five years.

To exercise your right to vote you need to be on the Electoral Register. The deadline to register to vote in the 22 May European and local elections is May 6. You can do so here.

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