We’re used to hearing that every vote counts, and that your vote makes a difference; words we can easily dismiss as cliché. However, on the island, with the size of our constituencies, the importance of every vote is easy to see. In the local elections this year Douglas North had a turnout of 16% of voters. At the general election in 2016 the overall turnout was just under 53%; and in Douglas East the difference between becoming an MHK or not came down to seven votes. One person’s vote could really make the difference to getting the person you want elected to represent you (or to ensure that the person you don’t want representing you doesn’t get elected).
We are fortunate to be in a unique position on the island that our elected MHK’s have the ability to swiftly bring forward life altering reforms and new laws. During the last election abortion was highly restricted on the island, but a push by activists and new MHKs resulted in the Abortion Reform Act, which surpasses the laws of neighbouring countries and gives island residents progressive protections and rights.
On the island, we’re justifiably proud of the fact that (some) women were given the right to vote in 1881, 37 years before (some) women were given the right to vote in England. However, even after 140 years we still see certain issues being pigeonholed as “women’s issues”.
“Women’s issues” are truly human issues because they affect everyone. The role that women play in society not only affects sisters, mothers, and daughters, but also their brothers, fathers, sons, and husbands. Furthermore, the patriarchy negatively affects men as much as women. By ensuring women have the tools they need to be safe, healthy, and productive members of society, the entire world will be a better place. Additionally, many issues pigeonholed as “women’s responsibilities” are in fact the responsibility of everyone. A small sample of the issues historically seen as “women’s issues” are listed below.
- Access to equal opportunity.
- We’re not equal until we’re all equal. As Audre Lorde said: ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.’ Be it sex, gender, race, religion, physical/mental disability, financial status, education level, the list goes on. We ALL deserve access to fight for what we believe in.
- The lack of respect for caregiving.
- Caregiving isn’t just childcare (and besides, childcare isn’t just a woman’s issue!) Access to affordable care for children and ill or elderly family members provides our residents with the ability to be a part of the work force and the freedom to explore their own projects, enriching our island further.
- Navigating career and motherhood.
- Maternity/paternity pay: In the Isle of Man ordinary Maternity leave is 26 weeks. Whereas Paternity leave is just one or two weeks. Currently there is no option for shared parental leave. In the UK parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave. This assumes that the birth parent is the one who wishes to take the full leave allowance rather than dividing or sharing it between both partners.
- Working during Covid and returning to the office
- Whilst Covid has brought childcare issues to the forefront of people’s minds, and brought about the realisation that working from home is a possibility for many employees it does seem to have still come with the assumption that caregiving responsibilities primarily belong to women rather than being shared between both parents. During lockdown some mothers were “encouraged” to take unpaid leave or reduced working hours in order to care for children when there was no formal childcare available, where there was not a similar expectation placed on fathers.
These issues affect all people, not just women. However, while we work to make sure that they don’t continue to be pigeonholed we should also ensure that we’re making our views on them heard. The general election is our opportunity to make sure that we are represented by people whose views align with our own. Whilst there may not be a candidate who ticks all your boxes, not taking the opportunity to cast your vote for the person you feel to be your best option increases the likelihood of the person whose views you don’t align with becoming your voice in Tynwald.
It is our right and responsibility to select the right people for the position.