I’ve spent the last couple of months travelling Britain listening to hundreds of women of all ages, backgrounds and races. From hair and beauty students to Woman’s Own readers, city high fliers to new mums I’ve spent hour after hour listening and learning. It’s been a fantastic experience confirming to me that if any politician wants to know what makes people angry, worried or inspired they should get the next train out of Westminster.
What did I learn on my what women want tour? I could tell you but then it would be my voice and not theirs’. So here’s a snapshot of what women told me about their lives and what changes they want to see.
Women feel shut out of politics.
Elaine, 50s, hair and beauty apprentice – “You need to know what it’s like for different people like you are doing now because you want to know what that feels like. They don’t. They don’t I’m sorry.”
Tracy, late 40s, Morrisons worker – “I voted once. A lady kept knocking near round me where there were a lot of park cars, she said if I get elected I promise I’ll deal with that. When she got elected nothing happened and I lost all interest in politicians at that point and I just thought let them get on with it. What they say they are going to do is different to what they do.”
Linda, late 40s, Morrisons worker – “They are all middle class, upper class aren’t they. There’s no working class people and I think that is perhaps what we need and more women…Sometimes you just think with politicians it’s gobbledegook. I don’t always understand that. Those big words”
Sally Lindsey, actress and TV presenter, Manchester – “I think sometimes that me a forty year old, and I’d say a remotely intelligent woman, I mean I don’t understand what they are saying and I want to! I mean it is double speak.”
These are women who care passionately about their family and their community, but feel shut out by a politics that doesn’t speak in a language that relates to their lives.
It’s all about childcare (most of the time)
At the start of each group I ask what are the everyday struggles that make life harder? Childcare was top of the list.
Caroline, 30s, Manchester – “If you work and you were for example on national minimum wage you’d get £50.48 for an 8 hour day and the nurseries all charge £55 a day more.”
Faeeza, 29, mum of twins – “I am right now working to have my children in childcare, you know there is very little that I actually take home after from my paypacket once childcare has been deducted.”
Catrina, 20, hair & beauty apprentice – “I want to go back to work after college and it is childcare cost. I think we need help with it. They want us to work but they keep putting the prices up, how can we afford that?”
Keely, 20s, NHS worker, Cardiff – “I’m going back to work four days a week. But I can’t drop her off and pick her up. There is a fee of £10 if you’re 15 minutes late. My husband sometimes works away so the days he’s not around I’m going to have to use my annual leave.”
When it comes to balancing work and parenting commitments, women want to be able to make a choice about what’s right for themselves and their family. But too often they feel that choice is being removed by soaring childcare costs and jobs that mean you have to fit family around work rather than the other way around.
Women want to get on
Tracy, Morrisons worker – “I don’t think there is much out there for single mums to get them back into work. Free training as well…You know after you’ve had a child it’s all about bettering yourself.”
Ellie, 30s from Cardiff – “Value professional mums. Most mums do want to go back to work but they love their kids too. You can’t always put a timescale on us when we go back to work. I know I certainly wouldn’t and didn’t feel ready to go back to work at six months and leave them with a stranger at a nursery but they might not always keep your job open for that long.”
Clare 30s from Cardiff – “If you are asking me then I’d have to say that breakfast clubs just don’t open early enough for a lot of parents. Realistically the times that when they are open don’t always match the times when people are work do they… I’m always late at work because I have to drop my little one off and the if the nursery was open just 15 minutes or 30 minutes earlier it would make a big difference. 6am would be great.”
Dads need to do their bit
Catrina, hair & beauty apprentice – “He said I do all of this work I don’t expect to have to do this when I get home. I said it’s like yes you’ve got a job but you’ve also chosen to have a family and live together and when I start working you are going to have to deal with this so you need man up and get on with it…I want that family unit but he’s like oh I go to work I’m not doing that. He will do the pots and then ask me if I’m proud of him. No! You’ve done the pots, get over it.”
Many women suddenly find they have two full-time jobs when they have children, working and bearing the lion’s share of responsibility for childcare and housework too. But it’s not necessarily that dads don’t want to be more involved.
Julie, Grangetown Netball team, Redcar – “I know a lot of men that are really quite upset that they can’t spend time at home with their kids, and they’re from that type of industry like oil rigs and chemical plants where they actually want to spend time with the kids when they’re ill but they’re unable to ask for that time off because it just kinda isn’t right, it isn’t real, they shouldn’t be doing that ’cause it’s not the manly thing to do”
Discrimination still exists
Talking to some of the younger women I’ve met, there was a feeling from many that discrimination was something that happened to the previous generation.
Katherine, 20s, management accountant, London – “I think it might be changing a bit, I have lots of female friends who are earning significantly more than their partners and if that’s the case I think you will see more men starting to stay at home but I suppose men might think it is a bit of a stigma.”
Fiona, 40s, finance director, London – “When I started in 1993 it was seen as a weakness if you talked about your child in the workplace…Thinking back to it, when I first started, women weren’t actually allowed to wear trousers.”
But listening to women, particularly those who’ve had children many suddenly feel faced with discrimination they’d never come across before
Safinha, Council worker – “When you have had a child there is that expectation that might have others and so where are your priorities and where and how do we then deal with them at work. Do we give it to the person who we think might go off and have two more because that is the stereotype of our community because we don’t just have one child we have many”
Lydia, 40s – Corporate career before having children – “I had to get the bus the other day and couldn’t get on the bus because there wasn’t any room in the pushchair space to put the buggy so I couldn’t get on, the bus driver wouldn’t let us on…We went to get on and there was already one pushchair on so we couldn’t get on, so I had to wait in the rain for thirty minutes for another one to come along…I mean who designed the buses?! Enough space for one pushchair or buggy?”
Saiqha, charity worker – “there are organisations out there I think that can be family friendly and encourage more mums working but sometimes I think it is a tick box exercise… recently I applied for jobs and said I needed flexible and they said fine really happy and you work part of the week from home but actually they weren’t really happy.”
Claire, NHS worker, Cardiff – “I’m only going back after two years to maintain my career really and keep it ticking over because if I’m away for any longer it is going to be difficult isn’t it and that type of thing. So I wouldn’t have an option really if I want to maintain my career really, you know, and there’s things like that you have to take into account.”
Juliette, Morrisons worker – “Some of these women might not have the education but they have life experience but they just look at what is on the table. I don’t know, she’s got ten GCSEs and she’s got none. I think a lot of work places discriminate against women with children. Oh she’s not going to be flexible enough, they don’t want to employ someone with kids, you know and I think that’s not really fair to do so because women who have got children are probably more reliable and more flexible than anybody because they need the money to look after their family so that needs to change too.”
Women are at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis
Tracy, Morrisons worker – “I can’t believe how much it costs to use my car every week and heat my house. Electricity bills. Cheaper transport, can’t use trains. The majority of people use their cars to get to work and stuff but if you made it feasible for us to get the train or whatever transport then we’d use it wouldn’t we.”
Jane, Morrisons worker – “you have to put extra hours in you know, just to stand still, we will be going backwards soon.”
Lynn, late 40s, care worker – “I love the job but every job I look for now it is all 25 hours or even less. It’s no good. It’s no good for us. We want to work. We don’t want benefits or any handouts. We just want to work.”
There’s something going on with feminism at the moment. From social media sites to global demonstrations suddenly feminism is a word women and men are using again, fiercely debating its meaning and relevance today.
But the vast majority of women I met were outside of this conversation:
Gloria: “Put your hands up if you’d call yourself a feminist”
Emily, 14, Redcar – “A what? Oh no, what does that mean?”
Jeanette, 30s, Redcar – “I did it at Uni and I had to do the different types of feminism…there’s about five different feminist theories and they all argue with each other about what being feminist is so from me studying that I wouldn’t say I’m not a feminist because they don’t even know what they are. I think as a sex we’re not feminists we’re just women.”
Billie, physiotherapist, Manchester – “My daughter wrote something that was so right on and I called her a feminist and she was a bit offended.”
The women I met would fiercely defend their right, their daughters’, nieces, and grandaughters’ rights to have the same opportunities as men, but the word feminism isn’t one they’d themselves use.
Leanne, 22, hair & beauty student – “I like listening to music but I won’t sit and watch the videos because I think once I’ve seen the videos I’m disgusted by it.”
Harley, 18, hair & beauty student, – “Seriously I think when there’s a model like on magazines and stuff and that then no photoshop should be done. They are the way they are. They shouldn’t photoshop and stuff to smooth the skin out.”
Faeeza, 29, on the Niqab – “Stop obsessing over the way women dress and focus more on the issues affecting Muslim women’s lives”
Tania, 24 hair & beauty apprentice – “They may need bigger models, like mannequins for the clothes so people can actually see what it looks like on.”
Chelsea 17 – “I’ve got a little cousin who is 8 and she has started putting tissues down her top and she is 8.”
Pornography makes us feel insecure
Mia, 17, hair & beauty student – “And the lads are watching stuff on the internet and looking at pictures of their perfect woman and expecting everyone to look like that and girls to be perfect and weight in the right places and it’s not like that. They are being brainwashed into it in a way.”
Amy, 18, Nottinghamshire – “I think it makes women feel a lot more uncomfortable and unconfident around men. If they are watching porn and that it is going to make you feel uncomfortable and conscious and that of your own body.”
Women shouldn’t just be consulted every now and then. In every single group at least one woman said that they would be interested in entering politics – if they knew how. The potential is there to completely transform our politics, but only if we give these women a route in.
If politics is going to connect with women and change their lives and their families’ lives for the better, it needs to listen to women, not shut women’s voices out. After listening to all these amazing women I promised to take the views of these women to the top table of politics. That’s exactly what I now intend to do.