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TEDWomen 2016

Sandi Toksvig: A political party for women's equality

October 27, 2016

Women's equality won't just happen -- not unless more women are put in positions of power, says Sandi Toksvig. In a disarmingly hilarious talk, Toksvig tells the story of how she helped start a new political party in Britain, the Women's Equality Party, with the express purpose of putting equality on the ballot. Now she hopes people around the world will copy her party's model and mobilize for equality.

Sandi Toksvig - Broadcast personality, politician, author
Long revered in the UK for her wit and candor, Sandi Toksvig is now lending her familiar voice to a greater cause -- equality for women. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I am so excited to be here.
00:12
Everything in America
is so much bigger than in Europe.
00:15
Look at me -- I am huge!
00:18
(Laughter)
00:20
It's fantastic!
00:22
And TED Talks -- TED Talks
are where everybody has great ideas.
00:23
So the question is: Where do
those great ideas come from?
00:26
Well, it's a little bit of debate,
00:30
but it's generally reckoned
that the average person --
00:32
that's me --
00:35
has about 50,000 thoughts a day.
00:36
Which is a lot,
00:38
until you realize that 95 percent of them
00:40
are the same ones you had the day before.
00:42
(Laughter)
00:45
And a lot of mine are really boring, OK?
00:48
I think things like,
00:51
"Oh! I know -- I must clean the floor.
00:52
Oh! I forgot to walk the dog."
00:55
My most popular:
00:57
"Don't eat that cookie."
00:58
(Laughter)
01:00
So, 95 percent repetition.
01:02
That leaves us with just a five percent
window of opportunity each day
01:06
to actually think something new.
01:10
And some of my new thoughts are useless.
01:14
The other day I was watching
some sports on television,
01:16
and I was trying to decide
why I just don't engage with it.
01:19
Some of it I find curious.
01:23
This is odd.
01:24
(Laughter)
01:25
Do you think it would be
worth being that flexible
01:28
just to be able to see
your heel at that angle?
01:30
(Laughter)
01:32
And here's the thing:
01:37
I'm never going to be able
to relate to that,
01:38
because I'm never going
to be able to do it, OK?
01:41
Well, not twice, anyway.
01:43
(Laughter)
01:45
But I'll tell you the truth.
01:49
The truth is I have never been
any good at sport, OK?
01:50
I've reached that wonderful age
when all my friends say,
01:53
"Oh, I wish I was as fit
as I was when I was 18."
01:55
And I always feel rather smug then.
01:59
(Laughter)
02:01
I'm exactly as fit as I was when I --
02:04
(Laughter)
02:07
(Applause)
02:09
I couldn't run then. I'm certainly
not going to do it now.
02:12
(Laughter)
02:14
So then I had my new idea:
02:16
Why not engage people like me in sport?
02:17
I think what the world needs now
02:20
is the Olympics for people
with zero athletic ability.
02:22
(Laughter)
02:26
Oh, it would be so much more fun.
02:28
We'd have three basic rules, OK?
02:30
Obviously no drugs;
no corruption, no skills.
02:31
(Laughter)
02:35
It would be --
02:36
No, it's a terrible idea.
02:37
And I also know why I don't engage
with sport when I watch it on television.
02:39
It's because probably 97 percent of it
is about men running
02:43
and men kicking things,
02:48
men trying to look
neatly packaged in Lycra.
02:50
There is --
02:53
(Laughter)
02:54
Not always successfully.
02:56
There is --
02:57
(Laughter)
02:58
There is so little
female sport on television,
02:59
that a young woman watching
might be forgiven for thinking,
03:03
and how can I put this nicely,
03:06
that the male member
is the very lever you need
03:08
to get yourself off the couch
and onto a sports ground.
03:11
(Laughter)
03:14
The inequalities in sport
are breathtaking.
03:17
So this is what happens to me:
03:21
I have a brand new idea,
03:23
and immediately I come back to an old one.
03:24
The fact is, there is not now,
03:27
nor has there ever been
in the whole of history,
03:29
a single country in the world
where women have equality with men.
03:32
Not one.
03:38
196 countries,
03:39
it hasn't happened
in the whole of evolution.
03:41
So, here is a picture of evolution.
03:43
(Laughter)
03:45
We women are not even in it!
03:51
(Laughter)
03:53
It's a wonder men have been able
to evolve quite so brilliantly.
03:58
So --
04:02
(Laughter)
04:03
It bugs me, and I know
I should do something about it.
04:04
But I'm busy, OK?
04:08
I have a full-on career,
04:10
I've got three kids,
I've got an elderly mom.
04:11
In fact, if I'm honest with you,
04:13
one of the reasons I came out here
04:15
is because TED Talks said
I could have 15 minutes to myself,
04:16
and I never have that much time --
04:19
(Laughter)
04:21
(Applause)
04:23
So I'm busy.
04:29
And anyway, I already had a go
at changing the world.
04:30
Here's the thing, OK?
04:33
Everybody has inside themselves
what I call an "activation button."
04:34
It's the button that gets
pressed when you think,
04:37
"I must do something about this."
04:39
It gets pressed for all sorts of reasons.
04:41
Maybe you face some kind of inequality,
04:43
or you've come across
an injustice of some kind,
04:45
sometimes an illness strikes,
04:48
or you're born in some way disadvantaged,
04:49
or perhaps underprivileged.
04:52
So I was born gay, OK?
04:54
I've always known,
04:55
I don't think my family
were the least bit surprised.
04:57
Here is a picture of me aged four.
05:00
I look cute,
05:04
but inside I genuinely believed
that I looked like Clint Eastwood.
05:05
(Laughter)
05:08
So my activation button
was pressed when I had my kids --
05:15
three wonderful kids,
born to my then-partner.
05:18
Now here's the thing:
I work on television in Britain.
05:22
By the time they were born,
I was already hosting my own shows
05:25
and working in the public eye.
05:28
I love what I do,
05:29
but I love my kids more.
05:30
And I didn't want them
to grow up with a secret.
05:33
1994, when my son, my youngest was born,
05:36
there was not, as far as I was aware,
05:40
a single out, gay woman
in British public life.
05:42
I don't think secrets are a good thing.
05:47
I think they are a cancer of the soul.
05:49
So I decided to come out.
05:51
Everybody warned me
that I would never work again,
05:54
but I decided it was
absolutely worth the risk.
05:56
Well, it was hell.
06:00
In Britain, we have a particularly vicious
section of the right-wing press,
06:02
and they went nuts.
06:07
And their hatred stirred up
the less stable elements of society,
06:08
and we got death threats --
06:13
enough death threats
that I had to take the kids into hiding,
06:14
and we had to have police protection.
06:17
And I promise you there were
many moments in the still of the night
06:20
when I was terrified by what I had done.
06:25
Eventually the dust settled.
06:28
Against all expectation
I carried on working,
06:30
and my kids were and continue
to be absolutely fantastic.
06:33
I remember when my son was six,
he had a friend over to play.
06:36
They were in the next room;
I could hear them chatting.
06:39
The friend said to my son,
"What's it like having two mums?"
06:41
I was a little anxious to hear,
so I leant in to hear and my son said,
06:44
"It's fantastic,
because if one of them's sick,
06:48
you've still got another one
to cook for you."
06:50
(Laughter)
06:52
So my activation button
for gay equality was pressed,
06:57
and along with many, many others,
07:01
I campaigned for years for gay rights,
07:03
and in particular, the right to marry
the person that I love.
07:05
In the end, we succeeded.
07:09
And in 2014, on the day
that the law was changed,
07:11
I married my wife,
who I love very much, indeed.
07:14
(Applause)
07:17
We didn't do it in a quiet way --
we did it on the stage
07:22
at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
07:24
It was a great event.
07:27
The hall seats two-and-a-half
thousand people.
07:28
We invited 150 family and friends,
then I let it be known to the public:
07:30
anybody who wanted to come and celebrate,
please come and join us.
07:34
It would be free to anybody
who wanted to come.
07:37
Two-and-half thousand people turned up.
07:39
(Applause)
07:41
Every kind of person you can imagine:
07:46
gays, straights, rabbis,
nuns, married people,
07:47
black, white -- the whole
of humanity was there.
07:50
And I remember standing
on that stage thinking, "How fantastic.
07:53
Job done.
07:57
Love triumphs.
07:58
Law changed."
07:59
And I --
08:01
(Applause)
08:02
And I genuinely thought
my activation days were over, OK?
08:05
So every year in that same hall,
08:08
I host a fantastic concert to celebrate
International Women's Day.
08:11
We gather the world's only
all-female orchestra,
08:15
we play fantastic music by forgotten
or overlooked women composers,
08:18
we have amazing conductors --
08:22
it's Marin Alsop there
from Baltimore conducting,
08:24
Petula Clark singing --
08:26
and I give a lecture on women's history.
08:27
I love to gather inspirational stories
from the past and pass them on.
08:30
Too often, I think history's what I call
the Mount Rushmore model.
08:34
It looks majestic, but the women
have been entirely left out of it.
08:38
And I was giving a talk in 2015
about the suffragettes --
08:43
I'm sure you know those magnificent
women who fought so hard
08:47
for the right for women
in Britain to vote.
08:50
And their slogan was: "Deeds, not words."
08:53
And boy, they succeeded,
08:57
because women did indeed
get the vote in 1928.
08:58
So I'm giving this talk about this,
09:01
and as I'm talking, what I realized is:
09:03
this was not a history
lecture I was giving;
09:05
this was not something
where the job was done.
09:08
This was something where
there was so much left to do.
09:10
Nowhere in the world, for example,
09:14
do women have equal representation
in positions of power.
09:16
OK, let's take a very quick look
at the top 100 companies
09:20
in the London Stock Exchange in 2016.
09:23
Top 100 companies:
How many women running them?
09:26
Seven. OK. Seven.
That's all right, I suppose.
09:30
Until you realize that 17
are run by men called "John."
09:32
(Laughter)
09:37
There are more men called John
running FTSE 100 companies --
09:49
(Laughter)
09:53
than there are women.
09:55
There are 14 run by men called "Dave."
09:57
(Laughter)
09:59
Now, I'm sure Dave and John
are doing a bang-up job.
10:02
(Laughter)
10:05
OK. Why does it matter?
10:06
Well, it's that pesky business
of the gender pay gap.
10:08
Nowhere in the world
do women earn the same as men.
10:13
And that is never going to change
10:17
unless we have more women
at the top in the boardroom.
10:19
We have plenty of laws;
10:22
the Equal Pay Act in Britain
was passed in 1975.
10:24
Nevertheless, there are still
many, many women
10:28
who, from early November
until the end of the year,
10:31
by comparison to their male colleagues,
10:34
are effectively working for free.
10:36
In fact, the World Economic
Forum estimates
10:39
that women will finally
get equal pay in ...
10:42
2133!
10:44
Yay!
10:47
(Laughter)
10:49
That's a terrible figure.
10:55
And here's the thing:
10:56
the day before I came out to give my talk,
10:57
the World Economic Forum revised it.
10:59
So that's good, because
that's a terrible -- 2133.
11:01
Do you know what they revised it to?
11:04
2186.
11:05
(Laughter)
11:07
Yeah, another 53 years, OK?
11:09
We are not going to get equal pay
11:12
in my grandchildren's
grandchildren's lives
11:14
under the current system.
11:17
And I have waited long enough.
11:19
I've waited long enough
in my own business.
11:22
In 2016 I became the very
first woman on British television
11:24
to host a prime-time panel show.
11:28
Isn't that great? Wonderful, I'm thrilled.
11:30
But --
11:32
(Applause)
11:34
But 2016! The first!
11:36
Television's been around for 80 years!
11:38
(Laughter)
11:40
It may be television's not so important,
11:41
but it's kind of symptomatic, isn't it?
11:43
2016, the UN were looking
for a brand new ambassador
11:45
to represent women's empowerment
and gender equality,
11:49
and who did they choose?
11:52
Wonder Woman.
11:54
Yes, they chose a cartoon, OK?
11:56
(Laughter)
11:59
Because no woman was up to the job.
12:01
The representation of women
in positions of power is shockingly low.
12:05
It's true in Congress, and it's certainly
true in the British Parliament.
12:10
In 2015, the number of men
elected to the Parliament that year
12:13
was greater than the total number of women
12:18
who have ever been members of Parliament.
12:21
And why does it matter?
12:24
Here's the thing:
if they're not at the table --
12:25
literally, in Britain, at that table
helping to make the laws --
12:27
do not be surprised if the female
perspective is overlooked.
12:30
It's a great role model for young people
to see a woman in charge.
12:35
In 2016, Britain got its second
female Prime Minister;
12:38
Theresa May came to power.
12:41
The day she came to power
she was challenged:
12:43
just do one thing.
12:45
Do one thing in the first
100 days that you're in office
12:46
to try and improve
lives for women in Britain.
12:49
And what did she do? Nothing.
12:52
Nothing.
12:55
Because she's much too busy
cleaning up the mess the boys made.
12:56
Even having a female leader,
13:00
they always find something better to do
13:02
than to sort out the pesky
issue of inequality.
13:05
So I keep talking about equality
like it matters. Does it?
13:08
Well, let's take a very quick look
at the STEM industries, OK?
13:11
So science, technology,
engineering and mathematics.
13:14
Pretty much important in every
single aspect of our daily lives.
13:17
There is the thickest and most incredibly
well-documented glass ceiling
13:22
in the STEM industries.
13:28
What if the cure for cancer
13:30
or the answer the global warming
13:32
lies in the head of a young female
scientist who fails to progress?
13:34
So I thought all these things,
13:39
and I knew I had to do "Deeds, not words."
13:42
And I spoke to my wonderful friend,
13:47
brilliant journalist
Catherine Mayer in Britain,
13:49
and we rather foolishly --
13:52
and I suspect there was wine involved --
13:54
(Laughter)
13:57
We decided to found
a brand new political party.
13:59
Because here's the critical thing:
14:02
the one place women and men
are absolutely equal is at the ballot box.
14:04
We had no idea what we were doing,
14:09
we didn't know how complicated
it was to start a political party.
14:11
I thought, "It can't be that difficult,
men have been doing it for years."
14:14
(Laughter)
14:18
So we started by calling it
"The Women's Equality Party."
14:20
And straightaway people said to me,
14:26
"Why did you call it that?"
14:27
I said, "I don't know,
I just thought we'd be clear."
14:29
(Laughter)
14:32
I didn't want what we were doing
to be a secret, you know? I just --
14:39
(Laughter)
14:43
Some people said, "You can't call it that!
It's much too feminist!"
14:44
Ooh! Scary word! Ahh!
14:47
I can't tell you how many times
I've heard somebody say,
14:50
"I'm not a feminist, but ..."
14:53
And I always think
if there's a "but" in the sentence,
14:55
it can't all be roses in the garden.
14:58
And then I started getting asked
the hilarious question,
15:00
"Are you all going to burn your bras?"
15:03
Yes! Because bras are famously
made of flammable material.
15:05
(Laughter)
15:09
That's why all women spark when they walk.
15:11
(Laughter)
15:14
Here's quick history sidebar for you:
15:19
no woman ever burnt her bra in the '60s.
15:22
It's a story made up by a journalist.
15:25
Thank goodness journalism
has improved since then.
15:27
So --
15:30
(Laughter)
15:31
I announced what we were going
to do in a broadcast interview,
15:32
and straightaway,
the emails started coming.
15:35
First hundreds,
then thousands and thousands,
15:37
from every age group: from the very young
to women in their '90s,
15:40
to hundreds of wonderful men.
15:44
People wrote and said,
"Please, can I help?
15:45
Please, can I visit you
at party headquarters?"
15:47
We didn't have a headquarters --
we didn't have a party!
15:49
We didn't have anything.
15:52
All we had was a wonderful,
tight group of fabulous friends
15:53
trying to answer emails
pretty much 24-7 in our pajamas.
15:57
We were all busy.
16:02
Many of us had careers,
many of us had children,
16:04
but we did what women do,
and we shared the work.
16:06
And almost instantly, we agreed
on certain fundamental things.
16:09
First thing: we want to be
the only political party in the world
16:12
whose main aim was
to no longer need to exist.
16:16
That's a fantastic idea.
16:18
We wanted to be the only political party
with no particular political leaning.
16:20
We wanted people from the left,
from the right, from the middle,
16:24
every age group.
16:27
Because the whole point
was to work with a simple agenda:
16:28
let's get equality
in every aspect of our lives,
16:31
and when we're finished,
16:35
let's go home and get
the other chores done.
16:36
(Laughter)
16:38
And we wanted to change
how politics is conducted.
16:39
I don't know if you have this,
16:41
but in Britain we have
two major political parties.
16:43
They're the dinosaurs of politics.
16:45
And how they speak to each other
is shameful and poisonous.
16:47
I'm sure you've never had
that kind of name-calling --
16:51
(Laughter)
16:54
And lying here.
16:56
Wouldn't it be great
if just one politician said,
16:58
"Do you know, my opponent has a point.
17:01
Let's see if we can't work together
and get the job done."
17:03
(Applause)
17:06
And let's get more women
into politics, OK?
17:13
Let's immediately get
more women into politics
17:15
by being the only political party
to offer free childcare to our candidates,
17:17
so they can get out of the house
and start campaigning.
17:21
(Applause)
17:24
Within 10 months,
17:27
we had more than 70 branches
of our party across the UK.
17:29
We stood candidates for election
in London, Scotland and Wales
17:33
in May 2016.
17:37
One in 20 people voted
for our candidate for London Mayor.
17:38
And when the men in the race
saw how many votes we were attracting,
17:42
wonder of wonders,
17:47
they began to talk about the need
to tackle gender equality.
17:48
(Applause)
17:53
You know, I've been promised
change since I was a child.
17:59
It was always coming:
18:02
women were going to stand
shoulder to shoulder with men.
18:03
All I got were empty promises
and disappointment --
18:05
enough disappointment
to found a political party.
18:08
But here is my new idea for today --
this is my five percent, OK?
18:11
And this one is really good.
18:14
The fact is, this is not enough.
18:16
It is not enough to found one political
party for equality in a single country.
18:19
What we need is a seismic change
in the global political landscape.
18:24
And the wonderful thing
about the model we have created
18:29
is that it would work anywhere.
18:31
It would work in America,
18:33
it would work in Australia,
it would work in India.
18:35
It's like we've made the perfect recipe:
anybody can cook it,
18:37
and it's good for everybody.
18:40
And we want to give it away.
18:42
If you want to know what we did,
we're giving it away.
18:43
Can you imagine if we could mobilize
millions of women across the world
18:46
to say, "That's enough!"
to the traditional battles of politics?
18:52
To say, "Stop the bickering,
let's get the work done."
18:55
We could literally change the world.
18:58
And I want that.
19:01
(Applause)
19:03
I want ...
19:08
(Applause)
19:10
I want that for our daughters,
19:11
and I want it for our sons.
19:14
Because the fact is:
equality is better for everyone.
19:15
Come on people, let's activate!
Let's change the world!
19:20
I know we can do it, and it wants doing!
19:23
(Applause)
19:26

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Sandi Toksvig - Broadcast personality, politician, author
Long revered in the UK for her wit and candor, Sandi Toksvig is now lending her familiar voice to a greater cause -- equality for women.

Why you should listen

Sandi Toksvig OBE is an award-winning writer, broadcaster and performer. She was born in Copenhagen, Denmark but grew up traveling the world with her family as they followed the work of her father, Claus Toksvig, Danish television's most famous foreign correspondent. Toksvig gave her own first television interview when she was six.  After graduating with a first class degree from Cambridge University she began her acting career first at Nottingham Playhouse and then the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park.

Toksvig's first experience of live television was when she hosted and co-wrote the children's Saturday morning show "No 73," which she did for six years. Other TV followed including the improvisation show, "Whose Line is it Anyway?" and six years as team captain on "Call My Bluff." Toksvig is the new host of the BBC's entertainment show QI and is currently recording the eighth season hosting the game show "15-1" for Channel 4. She has also had recent acting cameos in "Call the Midwife" and "Up the Women." Toksvig is well known on BBC Radio 4 for her appearances on "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" as well as hosting "Excess Baggage" and the News Quiz.

Toksvig has also produced television. The current Playhouse Presents strand on Sky Arts was conceived by her and she produced and wrote much of the content for the first three years.

Toksvig has written over twenty books including fact and fiction for both children and adults. Her stage play, Bully Boy, was the opening production of London's newest theatre, the St James. The piece also had a successful run in Copenhagen. Her latest novel The End of the Sky, set on the Oregon Trail in 1847, will be published in 2017. It's a sequel to her last novel A Slice of the Moon about the Irish potato famine. Her new comedy play Silver Linings deals with society's attitudes to older women. It will open at the Rose Theatre in February 2017 before going on tour.  Toksvig has written a column for Good Housekeeping magazine for twenty years.

In March 2015, along with journalist Catherine Mayer, Toksvig co-founded Britain's newest political party, The Women’s Equality Party (WEP), which in one year of existence now has over 70 branches across the UK. WEP stood candidates in the London, Welsh and Scottish elections of May 2016.

Toksvig has many honorary degrees. She is the President of the Women of the Year Lunch, Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth and in 2014 she was made an Officer of the British Empire by the Queen.

The original video is available on TED.com
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