Ayesha Hazarika:'˜Feminism is right on trend, but let's make sure that it's working'

Happy International Wimmin's Day (IWD) one and all and as my mate pointed out, the fact that a beige woman with a funny name is writing for The Scotsman is a sign of just how far we've come.

People hold placards as they take part in a gender equality march.  (Picture: Chris Radcliffe/Getty
People hold placards as they take part in a gender equality march.  (Picture: Chris Radcliffe/Getty
People hold placards as they take part in a gender equality march. (Picture: Chris Radcliffe/Getty

A lot has happened since last IWD. David Cameron was Prime Minister. We were going to walk the EU Referendum and remain (governments just don’t lose referendums don’t you know?). And feminists around the planet were fizzing with excitement at the prospect of Hilary Clinton becoming the first female President of the United States.

Cut to a year on and it’s a mixed picture. We have our second Conservative female Prime Minister, we are leaving the EU, and we have an unhinged misogynist in charge of the free world who is famed for his love of locker room bantz and the grabbing of lady gardens.

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Roll up your Zara shirtsleeves ladies. There’s work to be done.

We are all rightly angry and anxious about the future and that the clock is going to go back on things which have been hard fought for such as abortion rights in the US and employment rights here in the UK if we have a hard Brexit.

Feminism is big now. It seems to be everywhere. We are making witty placards, we are marching, we are posting selfies of aforementioned marching, we are signing e-petitions and we are reading, sharing and clicking the living daylights out of stuff on Twitter and Facebook. We have giant girl crushes on Caitlin Moran and Sandi Toksvig. Oh and most importantly, we are fighting like wildcats about the really big issue of our time . . . Emma Watson’s boobs.

We are busy as bees but we are filling our easy feelgood feminist comfort zones and I have a worry that how much actual real change will that affect.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that women – especially young women – are proud to stand up and call themselves a feminist. Even a few years, ago it was deeply unfashionable to utter the F word as it would have invited lots of eye rolling and lame gags about man-hating and dungarees – that has changed thank god, although Pier Morgan appears to have not yet got the memo. And it is a testament to the many leading feminists who ploughed a lonely furrow over the years banging the drum for gender equality that we have an engaged and vibrant feminist movement. There are three brilliant and very different books about feminism out now. Catherine Mayer, journalist and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, has written Attack of the 50ft Woman, which sets out the big debates and makes the case about how a gender-equal future could benefit everyone. Labour MP and rising star Jess Phillip’s Everywoman has at its heart supporting other women which is mission critical and A Woman’s Work, the memoirs ofBritain’s leading feminist Harriet Harman, are a fascinating history of the women’s movement. I used to work for Harriet on Women and Equality issues as a Special Adviser and her political journey across 30 years fighting for things like more women’s representation, more childcare and maternity rights and tougher sentences for domestic violence is an important and vital reminder for today’s feminists who actually want to make change.

So. To do that, as well as the fun stuff, we also need to focus on making sure the Government introduces policies that make women’s lives better or at least doesn’t do stuff which makes things worse.

And there is plenty to go on. Women (and increasing numbers of men) up and down the country are still tearing their hair out about expensive and inflexible childcare. Women still do the lion’s share of family care and also have the worry about caring for older relatives as well as looking after their own children. That means they rely on and use public services like Sure start, the NHS and council care services for older people, all of which are struggling and lack investment. Older women are getting horribly hit by changes to the state pension – known as the WASPI women. There is a still a pay gap especially when women have children.

Women in low-paid but important jobs like caring get little support or recognition. On average two women a week are murdered by their partner or ex partner. There are still very few women at the top of large corporations, the law, media and trade unions. Even though we have Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, men still outnumber women by more than two to one in Westminster and there has never been a female Chancellor of the Exchequer – or indeed a Shadow. You can say these this type of thing doesn’t matter but it may partly explain why under the last coalition Government, 85 per cent of cuts to benefits, pay, tax credits and pensions came from women’s incomes according to the House of Commons library. Just saying. And in a post-Brexit Britain, even with a woman in Downing Street, women remain vulnerable if not more so. Politics still matters.

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So happy IWD to all my sisters and sorry to be a bit of a kill joy, but as we head off to our women’s drinks receptions and marches, I make this plea. We can have our social media clicktavism and our placards, but let’s also get the policies and get women to have real power across every part of society because let’s get real – this fight is far from over.