Welcome to a new feature for ScotlandVotes ahead of May’s election. We’re calling it #16for16. 16 candidates that will be making an impact during the campaign and may be making a bigger impact in the Holyrood chamber after the election.
Our ninth profile is Lee Chalmers standing for The Women’s Equality Party in Lothians.
What’s your name? Lee Chalmers
Where are you standing? The Lothian List
Which party are you standing for? The Women’s Equality Party
How old are you? 44
What is your current job/role? I run a Coaching and Leadership Training business and head up a not-for-profit organisation that supports women to run for political office. I am currently a doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, researching a PhD on the effects of online trolling on women’s participation in public life. I like to keep myself busy…
What have been your previous jobs/roles? I previously worked in retail for 20 years – during school, through university and into my early thirties – latterly running a branch of Borders Bookstore in Kingston-upon-Thames. I’ve sold ice-cream and shoes in Ayr, cleaned kitchens in Stirling and run a skateboard shop in Leeds. I even spent 3 summers calling bingo at the Butlins holiday camp in Ayr. This was probably my first training in public speaking.
Why are you standing? I’m standing for election for The Women’s Equality Party because at last a party has come along that puts its focus on gender equality, equality for half the population that have never received full parity.
Women get paid less than men, on average £175 per week less than men in Scotland. Violence against women and girls is still a terrible problem in Scotland, even now, in 2016.
Though we have women leading the main political parties, women are still a minority of decision-makers, MSP’s, councillors and MP’s. The joys and challenges of childcare are not shared equally in society. Women and girls are not portrayed equally in the media, which feeds inequality further.
I’m standing because I want to be a force for change in Holyrood, working with and pressuring other parties to fix these important issues. Scotland needs MSP’s who have gender equality as their sole remit and push it to the top of the political agenda.
Earliest political memory? We spoke about politics in our house when I was growing up so I’ve always been aware that politics matters. My mum told me recently that when I was a kid I asked her why people who worked couldn’t afford things in the shops. I thought that if you had a job you should be able to buy what was available. So I think I have always been driven by a sense of justice and this is at the heart of my press for gender equality. Being a woman should not automatically mean being disadvantaged.
First election you can remember? The General Election in 1992. I was 20 and a student at Stirling Uni. We’d just endured three Tory governments and I had lived through the miners strikes, my school being closed due to fuel shortages, the Poll Tax marches and a lot of pain and suffering in Scotland. I sat up with my fellow students, ready to celebrate a change and to our shock John Major won it for the Conservatives again. I really didn’t understand what was happening. Everyone around me was sure this would not be the outcome and I realised that there are so many people in the UK who do not think the same way as we did. This was depressing and in some ways prepared me for the work of starting with a new party and winning people over.
Where do you see Scotland in five years? My hope for Scotland is that it becomes the most gender equal country in the world.
I want to see Scotland praised as a leading example of putting everyone on an equal footing – dads will be supported for taking on childcare roles, women will be paid equally and represented in decision-making. Our upcoming generation of girls will expect their voices to be heard and know they can be whatever they want to be, free of violence and sexist limitations.
Poverty and inequality that is currently compounded by women leaving the workplace, high childcare costs, unequal education and workplace discrimination will be a thing of the past that is taught about in history lessons. This is what we are campaigning for.
Favourite campaigning anecdote? Handing out flyers in Edinburgh a few Sundays ago; we were talking to voters about our action plan to end the pay gap between women and men.
As we were sharing this a small girl asked her Dad “Daddy, what’s the pay gap?”
And he explained the pay gap to his daughter thus: “Imagine you were in the school yard and teachers were giving out biscuits. The boys got five and the girls got three. Is that right?”
No, it’s not right Dad and we salute you for explaining it so well and being a great father.
During the campaign we have been amused by some men saying “No thank you!” to our flyers whilst their partners and wives sneak one into their bags behind their backs so we are always wondering what the response of men will be, but the majority we speak to are automatically supportive of our aims and are keen to achieve gender equality in Scotland too.
Tell us something not many people know about you I am a total sci-fi geek. My dad got me into science fiction when I was a kid and I think reading about worlds where men and women are treated equally really impacted me. I can’t understand why we aren’t there yet.
Biggest vice/guilty pleasure? Probably my love of coffee. I have a coffee machine on my desk and am not sure how I lived without caffeine, which I didn’t really start drinking until I was 30. I’ve certainly needed it throughout this campaign.
What do you perceive to be the next big issue in Scottish politics? I think it’s clear even from this election that Scotland’s new tax powers are on voters’ minds and as a Women’s Equality Party MSP in Holyrood I’d want to ensure that any changes made will improve the lives of women and not negatively impact them as some budget decisions do, when women are not involved in the decision-making process. I would support a tax increase for the wealthiest if this meant that vital women’s support services were funded properly and the lowest earners in the country, women, were able to be supported more fully.
Favourite place in the world? Why did I find this the hardest question you set? Nowhere in particular, just where the people I love are.
How do you relax away from politics? Following on from my sci-fi revelation above I can confess to having started watching the entire Battlestar Gallactica series again. If you haven’t seen it I recommend it. Great flying from Starbuck and a female president saving the human race. What’s not to like?
More #16for16 profiles: