Amy Heley and Aimee Wilkinson chatted with Molly Scott Cato about intersectionality, the pay gap and what makes the Green Party different.
Molly Scott Cato is currently the Green MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar. On 8th June, she is hoping to make history by becoming the first Green MP for Bristol West. In the general election of 2015, the Greens won 27 per cent of the vote and finished in second place for Bristol West, ahead of the Liberal Democrats and only a fraction behind Labour.
We went to meet Molly in the newly opened Green Party campaign hub on Cheltenham Road. It was early afternoon and the hub was packed full of people working on Molly’s campaign. There was a constant stream of volunteers coming in and out, as well as many curious people passing by and coming in to find out more. Molly put the kettle on before we sat down to chat about intersectional feminism, economics and politics.
Amy: So Molly, the first question we’ve got is the big one: do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
Molly: Yes, I do! I think feminism is something that I’ve always been proud of. I became a feminist quite young; I would say when I was in my teens. At that time, we had to do some really extraordinary things like battling against Miss World parades – you wouldn’t believe what we had to put up with then! Together with other women, I campaigned and refused to accept the boxes I was being put into. The 1980s was a great time to grow up as there was a lot of political activism. I think Greenham Common (Women’s Peace Camp) was one of the most inspiring things – that idea of sisterhood has definitely stayed with me.
When I was growing up, there was never any sense of oh you can’t do that because you’re a woman – that would just have never been heard in my household. I think that really helps. It’s not just you yourself thinking yes I can do those things, it’s having a sense around you that people’s expectations should be just as high for women as they are for men. I was very lucky to grow up with that.
Aimee: You’ve had a very successful career in both politics and economics, particularly through your role as an MEP. What advice would you give to young women looking to enter into these fields?
When you look at my life from now, it looks like it’s very successful; it’s got this sort of sense of a career path, doesn’t it? But I really don’t think it started out that way. What I’ve done in my life is I’ve followed my heart and done what I think I should be doing at the time. Quite a lot of my life has been varied and messy, shall we say, and when I really started to make decisions for myself I already had three children who I had to earn money for. At that point I thought: I’m gonna go out and become an economist. That was the thing I decided to do – to work out what was going wrong in the economy and how that was destroying the planet.
Then, one friend of mine who was an academic and already a professor told me to go and live in Stroud because there are lots of Greens there, and so I did. I got to be a councillor (in Stroud) and from there I got to be an MEP. She didn’t actually tell me to come to Bristol but she might as well have done. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re capable of and another woman encouraging you and believing in you is sometimes a really big help – and that’s what she did for me. She’ll probably read this and have a good laugh about it but she did do that for me. I think that’s important: as women, we can all really help each other.
Amy: Obviously, finance and economics are really male dominated fields- as is politics. I’m sure you’re well aware of the fact that only 29 per cent of MPs in the UK are women. How do you think we can increase the number of women in Parliament?
I think that the thing women find hardest about politics is the conflict and British politics is particularly controversial. Working in the European Parliament I’ve seen other political systems where women are encouraged and where women can thrive better because it’s more cooperative. This government-and-opposition way that the House of Commons behaves is really off-putting. Why are we doing it anyway? If we found a more cooperative way of doing politics it would be more popular, it would lead to better decision making and it would enable women to thrive. I’m speaking from a Green Party perspective and the Green Party is amazingly non-sexist; you’re very encouraged to come forward as a woman. Other parties aren’t like that. You can bring in quotas and artificial mechanisms to allow women to come forward but, fundamentally, there needs to be a culture where men welcome women being involved in politics. I do find that in the Green Party and I’m not convinced that it is as strong in other parties.
Aimee: You touched on inclusivity within the Green Party- do you have any plans to recognise non-binary genders in politics?
We’ve just launched our LGBTQIA+ manifesto and it would be great if people could read it because there’s obviously a lot of stuff in there. I’ll draw your attention to some of the key sections. Firstly, improving access to medical services and gender identity clinics, particularly for trans and non-binary people. Secondly, strengthening hate crime legislation and increasing public education on the harassment and abuse of non-binary people. We are also committed to campaigning for the X gender marker to be added to passports for non-binary and intersex people if they want to use it. So those are just three of the things but there is a whole manifesto that I encourage you to look at.
Amy: So clearly, you think intersectionality is incredibly important within feminism.
Yeah, I do. I think these issues have really come to the fore recently. Throughout my lifetime, we have seen the extension of rights to marginalised members of society. We should celebrate that and at the same time recognise that we’ve still got a long way to go; there are still lots of people who are facing discrimination. We’ve got to make more progress on that as a society.
Aimee: You are currently in the midst of a general election campaign in your bid to become the first Green MP for Bristol West on June the 8th. If elected, how would you take your views forward to Parliament?
In terms of this agenda, the important thing would be to work with the speaker in the Green Party for this area and see what sort of proposals are the priorities. We are obviously seeing a mental health crisis and a lot of stress that young people are suffering is to do with identity issues, whether it’s transgender people or intersex people, with much higher rates of discrimination and mental illness. That shows you that we need to campaign for them to have their rights and also, if necessary, counselling and access to medical support.
Amy: The gender pay gap has been a hotly disputed topic recently. As an economist, do you have any ideas about how we can close the pay gap, as well as how we can dispel the myth that it doesn’t exist? (as some people try to tell me!)
It certainly exists! The UK has one of the highest gender pay gaps in Europe actually. It is a great shame that Britain doesn’t have a very good record there. What we are looking at is the fundamental causes of why the work of men and the work of women are valued differently. I had a twitter row with someone recently who said to me “well, if women went off to become engineers or computer scientists, then they could earn more” to which I responded “there is something wrong with a society that values computer programmers but doesn’t value carers”. So to me, as an economist, there is an issue about equal value for equal work- equal pay for equal work- and we need more proactive action from public authorities. It shouldn’t be left to individuals to take cases; we should be able to prosecute companies and so on if they aren’t sticking to the legislation. We need to explore how we as a society decide who and what work is valued because a lot of women’s roles are underpaid and undervalued.
Amy: So to sum up, for you, why is the Green Party so inclusive and positive for women and other oppressed genders?
The Green Party is a place where everybody is allowed to flourish. I don’t think there is any particular ideal person or ideal identity- we just value diversity. Maybe that’s not so surprising, considering that the party has grown out of an understanding of ecology. In ecological systems you need all the different parts to flourish together; you appreciate each person for their particular value. That way of looking at the system and valuing plurality and diversity is the most valuable thing about the party. It then feeds into all our policies whether that’s policy to support women who work and need support with childcare or supporting women who stay at home to look after children or whether it’s supporting women who decide not to have children.
I remember once when we were all on a crazy Green Party road trip to the European Greens in Vienna, and I was thinking I wonder what it is that makes us Greens different? I was looking around the bus at all these people and trying to work out what it was that made people Green and I realised that it’s because they were all different. That’s what the party is about. It’s about saying what you are is great and what you are is what you’re supposed to be. Let’s see you develop and flourish, rather than ‘you should be this’ or ‘you should be that’. Your identity is your own personhood and that should be encouraged and allowed to flourish. That’s fundamental to a Green philosophy. We struggle for that in this world but I think I’ve managed to do that a lot in my life and had support in doing so. It’s really helped me to be in the Green Party in knowing that it’s absolutely fine to be me and I’ve just got to get on and be the best me I can be rather than try to live up to any other idealised standard.
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Collage by Fran Newton