April 12, 2017, by owright

WHM: Bold Women Make History

By Joanna Olesków

From defying convention, to overcoming national humiliation and election defeat, Natalie Bennett will always fight back. She tells Joanna Oleskow about feminism, politics and her next moves.

“Because you’re a girl, you’re not allowed to have a bicycle,” that is what Natalie Bennett heard from her grandma when she was five. Whereas in the perception of the working-class woman it belonged to the status quo, the five-year old realised that being a girl could prevent her from achieving her ambitions.

It was long before she knew, what feminism is, but she was smart enough to understand that things have to change. Proud and stubborn she would not fall for the unfair social rules. “I learnt how to ride a bike but only when I was 14 or 15 years old, when I was old enough to assert myself. It is not easy to learn how to ride a bicycle when you are that sort of age, but in the end I did it.”

She also paved her way to get a scholarship in a prestigious girls’ school in Sydney and secured a place at the city’s university. The fact that she graduated from agricultural science, didn’t prevent her from developing a career in journalism. Where is the will, there is a way and Natalie seems to prove that. “I learnt how to be a journalist by being a journalist,” she says, as simple as that.

She moved from Australia to Asia and eventually settled down in London, where she worked as a reporter for The Telegraph, The Independent and was an editor of The Guardian Weekly.

Is there a gender equality in the media environment? “Absolutely no,” Natalie replies   without any hesitation. “Features departments are female-dominated but news and politics are very much males’ agenda. The news and current affairs are reported as a football game, a contest, a competition between each other and I think this does a great damage to national and international reporting.”

Working for many years close to politicians she understood, that “politics should be something you do, not have done to you.” Instead of being just a passive reporter, she decided to act. Her New Year’s resolutions for 2006 were much bolder than the conventional “get fit and join a gym”. With strong views on women’s rights and environment protection she decided to change the world.

Within only 6 years after joining the Green Party, she made it to be elected as the party leader and in 2015 she lead the Greens in general election.

“I was very proud to be the first women in the UK who took over the leadership of a political party from another woman,” she recalls.

“In the Green Party the leadership means something else than in other parties. The leader is not a person who determines the direction of the party, but a person who represents the party, and in 2016 we elected our first-ever co-leaders.”

According to Natalie the challenges for women in politics are similar to the ones perceived by women at workplace.

“I think that there is a general problem with the idea of what female leadership is. If a woman acts strongly and firmly, she is criticised as aggressive or even ball-breaking. If a man behaves like that in the same situation, he is praised.”

It’s a myth that with a female Prime Minister the situation of women in British politics is good.

“With only 30 per cent of female MPs we are far away from reaching the proposed equality from 50:50 Parliament campaign,” she says.

There are also still problems with the gender pay gap, which according to Natalie are a result of stereotypical thinking. “We don’t value the work of part time workers the same way as full time workers, and many women work part time,” she says. “Why are we paying more to car mechanics than to child care workers? All the caring professions, which are mainly done by women are massively undervalued.”

The period of general election was for her challenging. She didn’t give up after the “excruciating” interview at LBC Radio, where she suffered a mind blank. She fought back, as she always does. With the same determination of the teenager who learnt to ride a bike, she proved that she can represent well the Greens. From “the worst party leader ever”, she became a successful challenger of the BBC, which for the first time invited all leaders of political parties to the TV debate. During her leadership the number of Green Party members grew from 13,000 to 60,000, however the party managed to have only one MP in Brighton and Natalie was third in Holborn & St Pancras.

In August 2016 Natalie stepped down as the leader of the party, but she has never left politics. She has been travelling the country campaigning for environment, school and social care reforms.

In October she confirmed that she will be running for the next general election as MP candidate for Sheffield Central. “In our electoral system the Green Party really needs to focus on one area in order to beat the First Past the Post, and that’s what I am doing right now.”

Natalie is crowdfunding her election campaign.

“As the Green Party we don’t have big banks and rich sponsors behind us. It is obvious but doing politics does take money. This way everyone can help to build people’s politics.”

While the world is being taken over by populists, Natalie doesn’t lose the temper. “People are hungry for change. In the United States a right wing populist defeated a centrist candidate. Here Labour lost the elections because they were too tory-like. But on the other hand in Austria a green candidate defeated a fascist.”

She thinks that the future of the Green Party is bright. In the times of housing, education, environmental and social care crisis people are looking for new philosophy.

“The Green Party has solutions how we all can live well within environmental limits of this wonderful but fragile planet.”

Did she celebrate the International Women’s Day? Of course! She joined students in Sheffield to talk about the need of Being Bold for Change. “I think this campaign is really great and just to quote the old slogan: ‘well behaved women seldom make history’.”


Posted in Women's History Month