young, female and opinionated: how we're voting at the election
Young women are the least likely to vote at the next election. So we went out to meet and speak to the first time voters who plan to exercise their democratic right.
If the last general election is anything to go by, if you are female and aged 18 to 24, you are less likely to vote than any other group. Whether young people just don't care about politics or whether the main parties do little to appeal to them (accidentally on purpose?) is discussed at every election. What's often overlooked is why young women are so much less likely to vote: yes turnout was low among all young people at 44% in the 2010 election, but it dropped to a measly 39% for females of this age, compared to 50% of males.
That only four in ten young women are represented in our political system is devastating for equality on every level. But will this election be any different? The leaders' debates super charged social media as Baddass Sturgeon shut down the male leaders and Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood introduced some genuine female empathy and warmth that is oh so often lacking in Westminster. Will Twitter's so-called Milifandom actually make any difference at the ballot box? And has the surge of voting apps and political matching sites opened up new ways to get politically informed?
Among young women who are voting, many have strong opinions about the issues that matter to them, not least housing, equality, education and the NHS. We wanted to find out what first-time female voters feel about politics in the UK today and how they will vote. Here we speak to young women voting for the five major parties about what attracted them to their chosen party and their attitudes to politics.
The Labour Party Voter
Mems Ayinla, 21, student at University of Warwick
I'm from the Medway towns in Kent. It makes me feel a bit cringe that I have to explain to people that UKIP won a seat there. It doesn't offend me that they want to get out of the EU but some of their underlying principles are detrimental to women, ethnic minorities and young people. Basically, everything I am.
Labour understand the things that I'm going to go through in the next five years. When I graduate, I will probably move to London for work, so housing and particularly gentrification are big issues. People like me can no longer afford places like Brixton, where my grandparents lived when the emigrated from Nigeria in the 60s. When I walk through places like that and see the jerk chicken stalls replaced by cheese and wine shops I think "Do I want this country to be somewhere where people are moved out of social housing because rich developers are offering a lot of money?"
Equality is really important to me and Labour are the best party in terms of trying to close the gender pay gap and trying to get more women into senior positions at work. And they've always had policies that benefit BME (black and minority ethnic) groups. The Tories have come in and we've seen that brake down, in terms of social housing and welfare reform.
Politics has always been my thing. My close friends aren't that interested. They feel disillusioned and unrepresented and think if anything needs to be done it has to start from the ground up.
The Conservative Party Voter
Katrice Russell, 18, college student in Luton
My personal values are based on what the Bible teaches and what my family have taught me. I believe in good education and the ability to implement it, discipline, marriage, religion and freedom of speech. I'm a cadet at the moment and plan to join the police force.
I did my own research on all the parties and used a voting app to see what I align with and it's definitely the Conservative Party. Some people might say they are racist and sexist but I don't believe they are. For example, female employment has gone up under a Conservative government. I don't really like to look at race and gender. I look at whether what the parties are saying is true and if I believe in it, then I'm more likely to vote for them.
The Conservative Party can offer me security after I go to university. They offer a long-term economic plan and improvements to the NHS. They just need to carry on as they are.
A lot of people my age have been over-socialised; they base their opinions on what other people think. I was told Labour is for working class people but that's not true in my experience. I think David Cameron is a good leader. He's strong and dominant but it would be good if he could listen a bit more to young people and minority people who don't get heard enough.
The Liberal Democrat Voter
Sophie Drabble, 20, administrator from Sheffield
Until a year ago I didn't think I was going to vote. But when I saw someone retweeting the Lib Dems' policies on the NHS and mental health, I was really impressed. I started doing online quizzes that match your opinions to the parties and it was very close between Labour and the Lib Dems. I'm really excited to start voting now.
I'm from a working class family. There's never been a time when it's not been a struggle for money. My dad works in a local bank and my mum's disabled and never worked. I feel UKIP and the Conservatives don't care for anyone's interests except upper class men's.
I don't support what the Lib Dems did with tuition fees. When I applied to go to university my dad said he couldn't help and I knew that I couldn't live on student finance and didn't want to struggle to pay it all back. If the fees were lower I would have gone.
I have OCD and extra funding into things like cognitive therapies would help me. I was on a business admin apprenticeship until about a year ago and I really struggled to pay for my prescriptions; not having my medication affects my everyday life in terms of just leaving the house. I spent a long time applying for the certificate to get free prescriptions but kept getting rejected.
To be honest, I don't really like politics in general. But I think it's important to get my vote out there and support a party that will benefit me as a working class woman.
The UKIP Voter
Laura Howard, 20, student nurse living in Edgbaston
I got into UKIP because of their animal welfare policies: leaving the EU would mean a stop to live animal exportation and we wouldn't be part of the common fisheries policy. I also agree with their immigration policies because, working in healthcare, I feel the pressures it puts on the system. We have fewer nurses now to deal with more patients. And we see a lot of people who can't speak English and it's a massive problem for us.
UKIP have the least racist immigration policy. Currently, if you are an EU migrant and you are white, you don't have to have any skills to come here. But if you are from outside the EU - say you're a doctor from India - it's much harder. How is that fair?
I don't think UKIP is necessarily representing me as a young woman, just as a human being. Obviously I'm a feminist in the sense that I think men and women should have equal rights, but I don't call myself a feminist because modern feminism is going beyond equality. We don't need quotas; employers should take people on because they are right for the job, irrelevant of gender. If women want to succeed in the workplace, I believe they can.
Young people have been ignored in politics. Parties focus on pensions and things for older people because they know they will vote. I tell my friends they need to vote but they say they don't know what the parties think. I don't understand why they just don't read about it for themselves.
The Green Party voter
Sonam Bhourlay, 23, student living in Brighton
My strong sense of justice has characterised my whole life. I was brought up in a Hindi and Sikh household. Sikhism influenced my life, in terms of its philosophy, such as standing up for people when they are being discriminating against. My parents taught me that if I see someone being bullied I should always step in. I had a difficult time growing up - when I was doing my A-levels my mum and I had financial problems and we faced losing the family home.
I'm voting for the Green Party because of its values. But it's a tactical vote too - I want the other parties to take on more people-centric policies. Like taxing people who can afford to be taxed. If you have money, what better way to spend it than securing good quality education and healthcare for everyone?
I don't trust the Conservatives. Instead of addressing the causes of inequality they are pandering to the rhetoric of blaming benefit claimants and immigrants, which is why UKIP is doing so well now. And I hate that they increased tuition fees. If I had had to pay £9000 to study, I wouldn't have done a degree.
We don't live in an equal society. I hate that in the future I may have to make a decision between being a mother or being a career woman. I like that I can identify with the Green Party leaders because they are women. Most of the other parties demonise the feminist cause, as if feminism is about anything other than creating equality.
Text Candice Pires
Photography via LWV