A Review Of The ‘Inspiring Kent Labour Women Event’- 10th March 2018 By Kelly Grehan

Spurred on by International Women’s Day on Thursday a group of us from Dartford CLP headed down to Canterbury for this event.

Since becoming Kent’s only Labour MP last June, Rosie Duffield has become the pride of the Labour Party movement throughout Kent, with all of us feeling that she is ‘our Rosie’ .

The fact she worked in ‘ordinary, but important’ jobs such as a Teaching Assistant and for charities and juggled this with being a single mother has certainly been inspiring for the rank and file female Labour members.

Ive written before about how in my experience women often play down their skills and experiences and do not realise the value they could add to their communities as councillors https://theavengeruk.com/2018/02/28/a-womans-place-is-on-the-ballot-by-kelly-grehan/ ; so it was interesting to hear Rosie say that not so long ago she felt that standing as an MP was not a realistic option for her and that talking to a fabulous woman called Frances Scott from 50:50 Parliament had made the difference in her outlook.

Frances explained that she launched the 50:50 Parliament campaign which campaigns for gender equality at Westminster with the aim to inspire, encourage and support women in being elected to Westminster and is asking Parliament and all the political parties to work on solutions.

It is very exciting to know that this is exactly what encouraged Rosie.

Women are 51% of the population so it is indefensible that women make up just 32% of our MPs.

Frances spoke about how men can represent women (and vice versa) but are more likely to do a good job when there are women around.

All people use their experiences to understand the world, so it is no surprise that issues which primarily concerning women such as maternity, childcare, the wage gap and domestic abuse have not been priority issues within a male dominated parliament.

Men and women have different experiences – it is not that one is superior to the other – they are just different and all people benefit from those different experiences being valued.

Laura Cashman is Programme Director for Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. She made the point that woman and men vote in the same proportions – yet the false narrative that ‘women are not interested in politics’ persists.

The idea that women cannot be good mothers and good politicians is a myth. Just look at the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who is currently pregnant, and closer to home, in France last year; Senator Larissa Walters addressed the chamber whilst breastfeeding her baby.

Yet woman are sidelined in arguments, for example in the Brexit debate only 16% of media appearances to discuss the issue were women!

Given a choice of seminars I opted (after some deliberation it must be said) for Confidence In Campaigning; led by an inspiring woman called Fiona Crawford.

Like many Labour party activists Fiona came to prominence after feeling compelled to campaign on issues she felt strongly about such as racism and the ‘Save Broadstairs High Street’ campaign. This spurred her on to other campaigning.

Other women told of their campaigning experiences, with the message being that campaigning is so varied that there is something everyone can excel at – whether it be door knocking, designing leaflets, making displays and numerous other things.

Hearing women talk with passion about their champion of various causes was so motivating, and a reminder of how much woman have to offer.

What I am increasingly learning is that ‘inspired women’ inspire other women.

As women, we need to get better at telling others what we have achieved and what we value about them.

#AskHerToStand was a campaign championed by 50:50 Parliament.

The power of the movement was bought home to me speaking to one of the members of my group, Sarah Crook, attending her first political event.

Sarah commented “50 : 50 really struck a chord with me. It has seriously made me think about standing. I cannot believe in 2018 it’s still a 2:1 ratio of men to women in Parliament. Frances was so impassioned – she made me want to campaign for the movement”

I ask all women (and men) to join https://5050parliament.co.uk/ and ask friends to think about standing for parliament, council and all other public offices.

Together we can make a difference.

Kelly Grehan is a member of Dartford Labour Party and co founder and writer for The Avenger.

A Woman’s Place Is On The Ballot By Kelly Grehan

So here we are 100 years on from the first women in the UK gaining the vote and the political class continues to be dominated by men.

208 women are now MPs making up 32% of the Houses of Parliament, including 206 female peers, making up 26% of Members of the House of Lords.

In 2015 of the 3,971 candidates who stood for election only 1,033 (26%) were women and this was hailed as major progress.  

Women were 34% of Labour’s candidates, compared to 30% in 2010.  169 Conservative candidates, 26% of the party’s total cohort, were women – a 10% rise on 2010 and the highest number in the party’s history. Similarly, 166 (26%) Liberal Democrats candidates were women.

It is the same picture in local government: 32% of local authority councillors in England are women.

Small, slow progress, but I hardly need to remind everyone that over half the people eligible to vote in this country are female!

Globally, the UK’s 30% ratio for women in the House of Commons puts it 49th in ranked list.

Rwanda is first, followed by Bolivia, Cuba and the Seychelles. Three countries in the ranking have no women in their lower or single house, while 31 have fewer than 10%.

So why don’t women stand?  

Well several studies have found evidence of well-entrenched gender bias in British party politics, including widespread incidences of direct and indirect discrimination by party selectors towards women candidates; ranging from gendered assumptions regarding women’s traditional roles to explicit sexual harassment.

Seeing the treatment of female representatives in the media and via social media is likely to put a lot of women off standing.

The fact that females at every sphere of the political system receive so much more abuse and ridicule than their male colleagues says a lot about our society and the everyday sexism that continues to define it.

Then there is the way the political processes are set up.  Meetings are often at night, leaving anyone with caring responsibilities unable to attend as no provision is made for children.

Door knocking is not viewed as a suitable activity for children by many.  

My experience is that Labour meetings continue to be dominated by men.

I am sure there are some, but I have not personally come across, a Labour Party Chair who is not a man.

Even discussions on issues primarily affecting women such as domestic abuse and sexual harassment or childcare are quickly overtaken by men, often pointing out that men can be affected by these issues too, and shouting down women who were about to speak about actual experiences.

Within the meetings there seems to be an unwritten rule that women make the tea and take the minutes.  

Women are simply not seeing the representation of women or given the voice they should be.

When I speak to very capable women about standing many simply articulate that they think they lack the capabilities to be a good councillor and so self select themselves out of the process.

The result of this failure to have adequate representation of the lived experiences of women in our elected places means progress for women is slowed.

I attended an event with Tracy Brabin, Shadow Early Years Minister.  It was clear her understanding of childcare and early years provision (or lack there of) is a shaped by her experience as a working mum.  Too often we are reliant on people who have no idea of our needs to speak up for us.  This is not to say we don’t have some excellent male representatives who work really hard for all their constituents, but such continued dominance of males (mostly white males over 60) means that the political set up continues to be patriarchal and to continue to examine issues in a patriarchal context.

This does nothing to advance us as a society.

The truth, in my experience, is women seem to completely underestimate what they could bring to the role of representative.

Many women are already firmly established as active members of their communities, on groups like school Parent Teacher Associations or volunteering for charities.

Many have good understanding of local issues surrounding schools from experience as parents and similarly the NHS from their experiences in it as well as taking others as carers (and yes it is still usually mothers and daughters fulfilling this role).

As mums many women have fought to get their children access to services like speech therapy or dyslexia testing which have given them in depth understanding of the system and the obstacles it brings up and many women are consistently shown to have suffered disproportionately in the austerity ‘cutbacks.’

The vocalising of these experiences and the taking of the wisdom of the experiences to the community can made a real difference.

The only way our local parties are going to get better is if we, as women go and make them better.  

Women, reading this – please do stand.