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.  

#AskHerToStand

100 Years On From Winning The Right For Women To Vote But How Far Have We Actually Progressed? By Kelly Grehan

Next week marks 100 years since some women in Britain were granted the vote – it seems to be forgotten that, despite all men over 21 years of age being able to vote after the Representation of People Act, only women over 30 who occupied a house were deemed fit to vote.

It was another 10 years before equal suffrage was to be achieved. At this time the destiny of a woman was very clear – get married and raise a family.

Campaigners like Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Garret Anderson had carried out and pursued a peaceful struggle to open professions like medicine to women. Yet still, only the privileged few, whose fathers or husbands were enlightened enough to permit it, got a foot on the ladder of opportunity.

Today almost all jobs are open to women, and yet we have yet to get an even gender representation in Parliament or standard equal pay.  

But there is one industry where process towards equality has been particularly slow: sport.

Male played sports continue to dominate the TV schedules and news headlines. Women who have beaten the odds and the system, such as Assistant Referee Sian Massey-Ellis are subject to scrutiny on their appearance which would never be imparted on their male counterparts.

In fact, after Sky Sports pundits Andy Grey and Richard Keys were embroiled in a row over their sexist comments on her; The sun saw fit to print a front cover of Sian dancing in a vest top and denim skirt with the headline ‘Get ‘Em Off.’

Further to this, some sports – boxing and motorcar racing in particular –  have not only continued to be overwhelmingly male dominated, but have continued to use women in roles that I can only describe as ‘accessories.’

This week it seems, those responsible for the Formula 1 brand openly recognised its use of ‘grid girls’.

They deemed it out of date and not conducive to the image they wish to portray.  In a Press Release Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations at Formula 1 said:

“Over the last year we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport.  While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms. We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

Formula 1 should be congratulated for their change in policy here and let us not forget this was a commercial decision, taken to protect commercial interests.

Clearly F1 decided that girls doing nothing more than looking pretty and having champagne poured on them was not a good image.

This has, perhaps predictably, not prevented  the coverage that has followed; accusing them of ‘cowering to political correctness’  and that ‘jealous, ugly feminists’ have ‘banned’ women from jobs they loved.

Objectification of women is endemic in our society.  Just look at the recent events at the Presidents Club.  People claim the women concerned enjoy their work, choose it etc. No doubt this is true, but ‘work’ of this type contributes to a society in which women’s role is seen as being for the pleasure of men in a world where they are portraying that the nearest women can get to the top or be a success is by fawning all over the men who actually win something.

Then there is the vilifying of feminism and the repeated use of the word ‘feminist’ as a derogatory term.

A brief browse through this weeks tabloids or twitter attached to the hashtag #gridgirl gives no doubt about the vitriol aimed at women who dare to praise the F1 decision.

Women who call themselves ‘feminists’ can expect to be called ‘jealous,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘prudes,’ and such like as a matter of course.

So 100 years after women won the vote it seems the idea that ‘women should know their place’ still persists.

We still have a long way to go for gender equality.

#MeToo – Sexual Assault By Helen Hill

By Helen Hill

          ** Trigger Warning **

I woke up this morning and carried out my usual morning routine of enjoying a cup of tea whilst browsing social media when I saw that #metoo was the number 1 trending topic on Twitter.

Intrigued I clicked on the hashtag to see what it was all about and it is safe to say that I was horrified when I realised that it was a hashtag to raise awareness of sexual assault.

#metoo quite literally means “I have been sexually assaulted too.” 

To see that it was in the hundreds of thousands of tweets at 7am blew my mind and also turned my stomach because as I read through the endless pages of women and girls of all ages, races and genders admitting that they had been sexually assaulted there was only one thing that I could think…. yes girls, me too.

It happened when I took my first holiday abroad without my parents, a massive group of us jetted off to Bendiorm in Spain for two weeks of fun in the sun on a club 18-30 holiday.

Although my mum and dad were a bit wary, they knew some of the lads I had grown up with were going and knew they would look after me so they permitted me to go.

The lads really did look after us girls and we always started off in the hotel bar before all going off to the bars and clubs on the strip, we stayed together all night and the lads were in the same hotel so they always made sure we got back to our room safely.

One night we were in a bar dancing when my friends strap snapped on her sandle, it was pretty early on and we were only in a bar around the corner from the hotel at this point so me and her walked back to change her shoes.

We did not think it was necessary for the lads to come with us, afterall we were 2 streets from the hotel, we were together and would be less than 5 minutes.

We knew there would be loads of people around – it was 9pm in Benidorm in August – the place was packed with tourists.

We walked back to the hotel, went to our room and she changed her shoes then we began to walk back.

When we reached the corner where the streets met we were grabbed, pushed against a wall and pinned…. both of us, by two men.

At first I think we just froze with fear, unable to believe it was happening. 

I suppose you would never think that two of you would be attacked at the same time or that there would be more than one attacker, or that it would happen somewhere so busy; it was still daylight!

I guess the unofficial plan with girls (we never discuss it and we probably should) would be that if something happened one of you would run for help…. but when you are both pinned by two men you are powerless and we were both terrified and completely at a loss as to what to do.

Then the groping started, they were trying to kiss us and grabbing at our chests, we struggled but two 5 foot 3 girls who weigh 9 stone were never going to wriggle free from the grip of grown men. As one of them put his hand up my dress and grabbed at my knickers I realised that we were in serious trouble and I had seconds to act before… well I dread to think! 

For the first time in my life I threw a punch, hitting the bloke who was attacking me square in the face and harder than I ever thought I was capable of.

He stepped back startled and his mate turned to help him (to be honest I think the attackers were both in complete shock that I had even dared throw a punch and were quite clearly not expecting it because they were now the ones frozen in shock now).

Thankfully it worked to our advantage and as they were distracted I grabbed my friends hand and we ran for our lives towards the bar and to the safety of our friends. Once we were running they did not pursue us.

I think what we failed to realise at the time was that we had been sexually assauted and just how serious what had happened to us was! 

As young girls taking our first steps in the world I think we just thought that because we had not been (God forbid) raped, that the police did not need to know.

We genuinely just thought we had been lucky we did not get raped….

LUCKY that we only got sexually assaulted. Lucky it was not worse….

The truth is, afterwards when my mind processed the events of what had happened I felt a few different emotions but the biggest and strongest feeling was doubt and I found myself questoning everything….

Was that really a sexual assault? 

Does it count? 

Was it bad enough? 

Were those men just a bit over zealous and drunk?

In my opinion, there lies the problem. 

Every time a woman is attacked in that way, plays it down like we did and doubts herself as to “whether it counts” and every time we do not report it, every time we think ourselves “lucky” and think “it could have been worse” we become part of the problem by allowing it to continue!

Those two men probably grabbed more young holiday makers that night…. myself and my friend owed it to other women to report those men for everyones safety!

We owed it to ourselves to recognise that we had been vicitms of a crime.

I am really ashamed that we failed to respond to that situation and I know my friend (who is now a police officer) is too.

That is why I am writing his blog post – in the hope that another woman will read it and if she ever finds herself in that situation she will speak up where we failed to.

As women we should be free to go about our business without fear of being groped, touched and raped.

We should not self doubt that “it might have not been a sexual assault” when someones unwanted advances require us to physicaly punch them to get them off us!

We should not play down these assaults and attacks as over zealous and drunk behaviour and we should not feel ashamed when we are a victim.

We need change and if by saying #metoo and sharing my story helps oher women to speak up I will be really pleased because the more of us that do speak up and the more society realises how widespread this problem is.

Then the harder it will be for people to keep turning a blind eye and sooner or later something will have to be done to address it and for me, I think that has to be done through education.