Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 35 seconds
Everyone has a story – especially new political parties. In the recent elections in London, Wales and Scotland 350,000 people voted for the newly formed Women’s Equality Party, while in London 1 in 20 voted for a WEP mayor (May 2016). Highbury’s Alison Marshall, a founding member of the Women’s Equality Party who stood on the London Assembly list (though missed taking a seat), talks gender politics and her hopes for the next big election in 2020. Interview by Nicola Baird.
“My motivation comes from Gandhi – to be the change you want to see in the world. I want to see gender equality,” says Alison Marshall over a pre-breakfast latte near her Plimsoll Road home. She’s just off to visit her mum who lives near Chichester and then will be heading to Copenhagen, to a conference focussed on women’s empowerent, including women’s reproductive health. Alison is the archetypal busy woman: over the past six months as Director of Advocacy & Campaigns at International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Alison has attended meetings in Moscow, New York, Washington and Bali in a bid to help the world’s women get better access to contraception and health services.
“Family planning is a key part of women’s empowerment – enabling women to choose whether they want children and if so, how to space them,” she says. Under the café table is the modest-sized rucksack she travels with as hand luggage “so nothing is lost” wherever she goes in the world.
Places Alison Marshall likes in Islington
- I love Highbury Fields, and like playing tennis there.
- Plimsoll Road has a great community and annual street parties.
- I really like Gillespie nature park, it’s a little gem where you wouldn’t expect. I remember going blackberrying there – you wouldn’t expect you could make a blackberry and apple crumble from blackberries just behind Arsenal tube.
- I enjoy Upper Street. There is such a good diversity of shops and you’ve got the Screen on the Green cinema, Waterstones and any kind of food you want – Turkish, Thai, Italian…
Being the change
In addition to travelling for her job and commitment to bolstering the new Sustainable Development Goals* Alison has been using her spare time building up the Women’s Equality Party – standing as a candidate for WEP on the London Assembly London-wide list and working with the Hackney & Islington branch, the biggest branch of the 72 WEP local groups nationwide.
“In the North East constituency (Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest) the Women’s Equality Party candidate for Mayor got nearly 7 per cent of the overall Mayoral votes and the Party London-wide list received more than 5 per cent of the votes cast,” says Alison. “I was really heartened by the level of support for equality issues across Islington. There was plenty of support from men, although one woman did confuse the WEP with a party-party,” says Alison with a broad smile – clearly not jaded by a spring spent campaigning. “The issue that really took off was the gender pay gap and how unfair that the average woman still earns 20 per cent less than a man 45 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed. It’s shocking.”
“I don’t have children which was why I had time to stand as a candidate. The costs of child care, and also elder care, are so high in London they stop women working outside the home or getting the hours they want, because they have to be back for school pick up,” she adds.
Alison, now 46, came to London after doing a Geography degree at Cambridge. “I moved to Islington because of my partner’s family who were here. He grew up on Highbury Fields, but it was an extremely different Islington then,” she says.
It’s clear that Alison enjoys being busy, because she’s got three post-tertiary qualifications: a Masters in International Development, a Masters in Human rights and an MSc in NGO Management. “I’m not studying now,” she says, with perhaps the tiniest tinge of regret. “My mum banned me, she thought I was overdoing it. No more course for three years, but she supports my campaigning!”
It’s easy to imagine Alison in government, running the UK’s international development department. All she’s got to do now is see the Women’s Equality Party continue raising its profile. And win a seat with the winning party. Until then it’s all about making sure that equality issues stay high on the political agenda and as she puts it, “members of the public talk more about issues like the gender pay gap in normal conversations.” And thanks to Alison Marshall, and the other WEP candidates, we’ve all got a topic to turn to should the buzz about the latest box set binge or fitness craze dry up.
Women’s Equality Party (WEP) was set up at the Women of the World Festival in 2015 by Catherine Mayer and Sandy Toksvig. Progress has been swift for a new party: 1 in 20 people in London voted for Sophie Walker to be their Mayor in May 2016. The London Assembly candidates, including Alison Marshall, took 3.5 per cent of the total votes although this was not enough for WEP to win a seat.
- The Sustainable Development Goals replaced the Millennium Development Goals and have a 2030 target. The focus for Alison at international meetings representing IPPF is to make sure women’s health and “the interaction between the triangle of social, environmental and economic progress is ever better developed.”
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.
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