Yes, the semi-regular news-surfing is back, which will of course mean more spam for me from surfing websites. Joys.

First off, there are a couple of things for which I have no sympathy;

The number of British students at UK universities has fallen for the first time in recent history” and “A boys’ club in Bristol has changed its name after the council threatened to withdraw funding if the club did not show girls were also welcome.

Since I have my crystal ball, I can forsee trouble ahead in the guise of being labeled as either a stroppy student, or a strident, man-hating bitch, or both.  Strangely enough, I am neither of those things.

I’m very grateful that I have the chance to get myself a degree. I really am. I just would have been more grateful if, for example, the student loan I get was guaranteed to cover my accomodation costs, or if it was not assumed that, since my parents earn X amount each year, they would of course be happy to subsidise my adult life, and my sister’s adult life, whilst also paying their mortgage and bringing up my seven year old brother. I’ve never believed that getting 50% of “young adults” into higher education was a good idea, and it seems even less so now –  because who, in these “credit crunch” days, wants to saddle themselves with £20,000 of debt before they’ve even found themselves a proper job?

As for the boy’s club, I find my levels of sympathy greatly reduced by the quotes from the club’s leader. Anybody that says things like “it’s this PC bureaucracy gone mad” has automatically lost any respect I might have for them. Or indeed things like “The boys’ club – formerly the lads’ club – has always been a major service, primarily for boys of course.” Which leaves me wondering who else the club served. Perhaps it’s that old nonsense about “man embracing woman” that means that when they say “boys”, they actually mean “all non-adult people”?

As it happens, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the council’s criteria, which says that “if you want funding, you have to show that you are meeting the needs of all young people”. And given that the club remains boys-only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I’m really not too concerned that boys will suddenly start feeling excluded.


In other news, women can harm themselves in new and exciting ways whilst pregnant, by drinking too much water. Interestingly, this article is written without the usual headless pregnant torso photo which is usually a given, so I’ll give the BBC a bonus point for that. On the other hand, it is yet more conflicting advice about what pregnant women should and shouldn’t do. I have to say, however, that I was greatly amused by the final quote: “the key thing is for the woman to listen to what her own body is telling her“. Well, who’d’a thunk it? Letting women decide for themselves? Surely not!

Moving on, before my sarcasm gets the better of me, and the last story of interest is that women are transforming Welsh politics. Why? Because there’s a 47:53 ratio of women: men. Apparently, “political debates were more consensual than adversarial as a result and had ‘non-traditional’ topics on the agenda such as domestic violence.

Happy times. Interestingly enough, we touched on these kinds of topics back in October last year, when we had two members of the Green Party with us. Of course, back then, what was said was that “the structures of the council are very traditional and adversarial which often puts people off”. It’s a catch-22 situation really; the adversarial format of meetings appears to deter women, which means that there is an uneven gender ratio with more men than women, which makes it more likely that the structure will be adversarial, which deters women….

If that cycle could be broken – as it hopefully has been in Wales – we could be looking at a much better governed country. At the very least, we could aim for “a consensual political style, an inclusive politics, and working arrangements which recognise the caring responsibilities of those working within it.” I can but hope.

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We were fortunate to be able to talk to Jillian Creasy and Kathy Aston from the Sheffield Green Party (see their national site here) about the way the party works and what its policies are. Jillian is a councilor and Kathy a member of the local party.

As you might expect, from the name, the reputation or just a quick look around their websites, the Green Party is very much for women’s rights – and equality in general.
They have an equalities officer elected within the the national party, and women’s committees in the party include:

Women By Name – a strictly women-only group

Green Women – a group that allows men to participate in discussions, although they cannot vote on issues.

However, it is mostly men at the national conference, mostly men speaking and only one woman as an executive.
There is also an issue over the number of women participating at a local level. It was suggested that one of the reasons for this may be that women are more likely to be involved in active capaigning instead of the day-to-day business of the party, particularly as it is an electoral party and as such is contrained by the same rules as all political parties. A general impression of political parties being governed mainly by old, white, straight men may contribute to women staying away from this aspect of the party.
We also discussed how much of a role childcare might be playing in putting women off being more active, as the meetings of the local party are in the evening, meaning that some women may be constrained by the need for someone to look after their children. Evidently, this would also be a constraining factor for single-parenting men.

The city council currently has about 1/3 female members, but there are also many other unrepresented groups, because the average age is about 60. The council allowance is only around £10,000 P/A and it is very time-consuming work which can prevent anybody on a lower income, or with a less flexible work environment, from standing as councilors. And the structures of the council are very traditional and adverserial with often puts people off.

The is concern that the Liberal Democrats are going to try to remove the equality department from the council soon. We intend to keep an eye on the situation and try and get involved to help save it if needs be. It has been billed as a spending cut, but seems counter-intuitive considering that in order to consider equality issues without the help of a specific department, the onus would then be on the council to provide every individual manager with suitable training.

In November there is a one day conference of the Green Women group in Huddersfield that is open to others, there will be discussions, training and work shops.

We also talked briefly about some of the Green Party’s policies, such as those towards prostitution and sex education. Their stance on sex education in particular feeds into equality issues; in their own words:

“The Green Party would… Ensure all schools provide sex education including on the diversity of sexualities and gender identities and create supportive environments for LGBT staff and students.”

Clearly, the Green Party are far from being a one-issue party, and seem to be actively trying to constantly improve.

A huge thanks to Jillian and Kathy for coming to talk to us, it was incredibly interesting and informative. We hope to see you both soon!