'Mary Wollstonecraft would want us to build on our successes and to get out and vote on 22 June'

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By Dr Patricia Tumelty

Mary Wollstonecraft – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman argues that people are not ‘by nature’ one way or another – rather, that women are ‘socialised’ to be a certain way because of their station in society. Her life’s work involved campaigning for an end to the subjugation of women arguing for a need to create the conditions in our society for equality for all regardless of sex or class.

As we race towards election date these words are as relevant today as the late 18th century.

They are relevant because:

  • We are witnessing the impact of poverty on women in Jersey and across the globe. Women living hand to mouth have limited choices and even fewer opportunities to escape from the consequences of abuse, trauma, mental illness, and addiction. No matter what anyone says, empty pockets make it very difficult to move forward in relationships or to maintain good physical and mental health.

  • Mental-health problems are rising, and the absence of a consistent trauma informed network means many women and men don’t get to testify or tell their own story except sometimes to a judge.

  • Across the Atlantic we hear rumours of overturning the 1973 landmark decision of the US Supreme Court Roe V Wade ruling and the implications for the rights of women, and we still have secret schools for girls in the capital of Afghanistan.

Back here on our own doorstep in Jersey if Wollstonecraft’s spirit/ghost were to appear at the political husting over the next few weeks what might she thinking or feeling? She may be excited that we are turning out more young women today who are able to pursue any education degrees according to their abilities. She may be furious, however, when she learns that young women’s progression in education is still more connected to the sums of money their parents have in the bank than their ability.

She may despair when she reads how division and poor outcomes continue to exist in our education system as early as nursery as found in the recent Jersey Community Relations report. She may have a glimmer of hope peppered with disappointed that we have 61 male and only 32 female candidates. She may issue us with a stark warning that, taken to its limits, such inequality in female representation creates the conditions for the ongoing subjugation of women to thrive. But her own life was not straightforward, and I think she would raise a glass to all the women out there who maintain their courage and dignity through it all.

As we move out of the pandemic, craving to get back to some kind of normality, we are all in real danger of sugar-coating inequalities and turning away from complex and unpalatable truths. Dopesick, the Disney Plus portrayal of The Sackler family, owners of the Purdue Pharma drug giants behind America’s opioid scandal is a powerful reminder of how greed, denial and entitlement are the perfect foundations for some people to succeed and for others to fail or die. This drama also evokes ways in which families are always desperately seeking solutions and trying to find the right thing to say and do as they watch their loved ones disappear into the swamp of addiction. Broken but not surprised was the most common emotion of the family’s response to relapse and a piercing reminder of how families are constantly caught in a spiral of over and under reacting. Trying to know what level of reaction to take is like trying to catch running water and impossible to measure.

Science and common sense are said in the end to have defeated Covid-19. Unfortunately, in trying to defeat addiction the science is woefully lacking. And even the science that is emerging, such as how the brain chemistry is changed in someone addicted to opioids, doesn’t get much airplay. Unfortunately, when it comes to supporting mentally ill people or those in the throes of addiction, judgmental and misguided beliefs about who is or who isn’t deserving of treatment or support take centre stage.

Because there is no accessible science to follow, we need to better support people relying on gut instinct and caring for people from whom many others have turned away. It’s also why we need to educate our politicians, the old and the new ones, on these life-and-death matters hidden behind walls of shame, ignorance, and denial. If we really want to build back better post-Covid we need the shiny newly elected politicians to understand and get to grips with the role charities such as Mind Jersey and Silkworth Lodge have in delivering better public health outcomes for all.

An exasperated carer, visiting Mind Jersey recently, explained to me how the universe keeps throwing stuff at us until we figure it out. Her words are a powerful reminder that we cannot turn away from those most in need and often least understood. Wollstonecraft would want us to keep focusing on the issues holding women back, including the impact of mental illness and addiction on women and families. She would want us to campaign for a fair transparent welfare safety net, to build strong partnerships to tackle the complex relationship between mental health and poverty at a community level and individual level. She would want us to build on our successes and to get out and vote for women or men on 22 June.

  • Patricia is executive director at Mindjersey, a member of the women in politics group and can be contacted at P.tumelty@mindjersey.org

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