London Assembly election: Highbury hopeful Alison Marshall ‘heartened’ by local support for Women’s Equality

Alison Marshall, Women's Equality Party Candidate for the London Assembly

Alison Marshall, Women's Equality Party Candidate for the London Assembly - Credit: Archant

Sophie Inge meets Highbury charity worker and Women’s Equality Party member Alison Marshall, who is standing as a London-wide candidate for the London Assembly this May

Alison Marshall, Women's Equality Party Candidate for the London Assembly

Alison Marshall, Women's Equality Party Candidate for the London Assembly - Credit: Archant

By rights, Alison Marshall should still be catching up on sleep – but she’s wide awake and beaming as she opens the door to her Victorian home in Highbury.

It’s early on a Friday, and this is the only time she can squeeze the Gazette into her whirlwind schedule.

She’s just been to Stockholm, she tells me, to talk to politicians about sexual and reproductive health as part of her full-time job at an international health charity. And on Saturday, she’s jetting off to New York to advocate at the Commission on Population and Development.

But we haven’t come here to talk to her about her day job.

Alison also happens to be one of the founding members of the Women’s Equality Party, which launched in March last year, and she is one of their 11 London-wide candidates in this May’s mayoral elections.

Why did she decide to stand?

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“It was the classic motivation from Gandhi who said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’,” she says. “I feel strongly that women’s equality issues need the attention they are not getting.

“We’re half the population but somehow always get relegated to a special issue at the back of most parties’ manifestos.”

For Alison, this means all her spare evenings and weekends are spent canvassing for the party.

Overall the reaction has been positive, she says.

“I spoke to a man the other day who said he had championed women’s equality his whole life as an engineer and was particularly concerned about the underrepresentation of women in the industry. But by far the funniest response was when I knocked on a woman’s door and said: ‘I’ve come to tell you all about the Women’s Equality Party’ and she said: ‘Great! Where is it?’ I was really stumped for a bit!”

Nevertheless, Islington and Hackney have the highest number of supporters in London, and it’s no surprise considering the level of inequality in the borough, she says.

She pulls out a piece of paper covered in statistics.

“Ninety-three per cent of lone parents with dependent children are female and more than half of lone parents are not in employment,” she says. “Why? Because we don’t earn enough to pay spiralling childcare costs. It’s 46 years since the Equal Pay Act and we are still seeing women earning 20 per cent less than men on average. Think about the difference it would make if we got equal pay. We reckon it would put £50billion into the economy of London.”

The party is campaigning for shared parenting and care-giving, which will help reduce the pay gap, it claims, and lead to women taking on more decision-making positions.

Another equality issue close to home is the availability of sexual health care for women, says Alison.

In December she joined demonstrators outside Islington Town Hall – including schoolchildren with fake baby bumps – to protest the closure of the Margaret Pyke sexual health centre in King’s Cross.

“It’s incredibly short-sighted in terms of the cost of services because it means we are going to have more unwanted pregnancies occurring later on,” she says.

“Despite all rhetoric about young mums and preventing teenage pregnancies, they are going to shut a service that’s helping people to stay safe and healthy.”

Other issues championed by the party include equal representation in politics, encouraging more girls to study traditionally male-dominated subjects, and an end to violence against women.

She’s confident that the party can make a difference. “Actually being part of a political party makes other candidates sit up and take notice.

“What I say to people is I want half your votes for equality - because you get four votes when you go to the polls. You get first and second choice for mayor, then you get a constituency vote and an orange paper for the London-wide list.”

Is she hopeful?

“Absolutely! Who knows what will happen but we are really heartened by the support and we’re out there knocking on doors every evening.”

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