As The Only Main Political Party To Have Never Had A Female Leader, It’s Time The Labour Party Take A Look At Itself By Kelly Grehan

With the election of Jo Swinson as Liberal Democrat Leader two weeks ago, the Labour Party now finds itself behind the Conservative, Green Party, Plaid , SNP, Sinn Fein, Independent Group and even the DUP in never having had a substantive female leader.

It is unfortunate, that as the party of devolution, we can not point to having had a female Scottish or Welsh First Minister or London Mayor either. Chancellor positions have also only been held by males.

So why in, over 119 years of existence has the Labour Party failed to have a female leader? It is not as if the Labour Party has a lack of talented women, across all wings of the party.

As a party, Labour has contributed 57.8% of all women MPs elected to parliament since 1918; it champions all-women shortlists; 45% of Labour MPs currently in government are women. So why, after all this time, have we still never had a female Labour leader?

All Women Shortlists have undoubtedly been the reason for our success in getting women into Parliament. Without AWS I think it is fair to say we would not have got many of our excellent female MPs into Parliament; these women include Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Sue Hayman, Cat Smith, Valerie Vaz, Chi Onwurah, Christina Rees, Barbara Keeley and Nia Griffith, Gloria de Piero, Paula Sherriff, Stella Creasy, Rachel Maskell, Jess Phillips, Tulip Siddiq, Holly Lynch, Heidi Alexander, Rupa Huq, Melanie Onn, Thangam Debbonnaire, Maria Eagle, Lilian Greenwood, Kerry McCarthy, Rachel Reeves, Shabana Mahmood and Lisa Nandy. This list makes the dull argument that AWS would lead to mediocre women being selected to make up the numbers hard to support, instead demonstrating that amazing women are often overlooked. In any case there is no shortage of mediocre men in the Commons! It is hard to avoid the argument we would have lost out on this talent without AWS.

If given a choice between a man and a woman members almost always choice a man. Why? An unconscious bias towards men remains within the party membership which must be explored and owned if we are ever to overcome it. If we are truly the party of equality we need to prove it, and be honest about what we are doing wrong.

We can see what happens without AWS in my own constituency. The last time a female candidate was selected was in 1938. Jennie Adamson won the Dartford seat too, that means that almost no one in our town has any memory of it having a female Labour election candidate!

The two women who have come closest to leading he party are Margaret Beckett and Hariet Harman, who were both Deputy Leaders and acting leaders.

Looking at their histories it is hard to see any argument that either were not suitably qualified. Beckett is actually the longest serving female MP ever. She was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party in 1992 under John Smith and when he died in 1994 she became, temporarily, the leader. She then stood for both leader and deputy leader and while Gordon Brown backed her for deputy leader in 1994, she lost out to John Prescott. She held great offices, including Foreign Secretary, but this did not stop her being labelled as a ‘Blair Babe.’ Harman is a QC and served as Shadow Employment Secretary, Shadow Health Secretary and Shadow Social Security Secretary. Despite being leader after Gordon Brown’s resignation she never stood for leader.

Writing for International Women’s Day back in March Harriet Harman summed up the experience of those who speak out about the situation:

‘If you argue for positive action, which the women’s movement in the Labour Party has, then that will be and has been resisted. If you are always pushing at barriers, you’re a productive force, but not necessarily a popular one. Those leading that charge can come to be considered too unpopular for the top job. That is an explanation, but it’s not an excuse.’

There are still men in the party who remain against women in Parliament. For example Veteran MP Austin Mitchell used the occasion of the announcement of his retirement in 2015 to complain that the influx of women MPs had ‘weakened parliament’. The fact a man thought it ok to voice such nonsense in public makes me wonder what else in being said under cover!

However, I do not think Mitchell’s view is typical of that in the party, I think the problem is more that the concept of what a candidate is in intrinsically tied up with imagery of a male for most people. It is easy for women who argue against this to be wanting special treatment.

Now is the time for the decent men in the party to be champions of gender equality, and supporters of the feminist cause. It is no longer enough to leave it to women to fight for equality. It is time for us to look at what processes can ensure this is the last time Leader, Deputy Leader and Chancellor/Shadow Chancellor are all held by men.

I think the time has come to introduce rules that make having three people of the same gender in the three top roles impossible.

Women Will Remain Poorly Represented While We Fail to Accommodate The Realities of Women’s Lives By Kelly Grehan

“Women are not interested politics Kelly, that’s why I voted against it.”

So said a member of my CLP, when explaining why he voted against an AWS (All Women’s Shortlist) motion.  Of course, this comment was no surprise to me. Years as a political activist have shown me time and time again that, for many, the idea that women do not belong in politics persists.

The failure to bring about gender equality in any part of our political system is used by some as proof women are not interested or not ‘cut out’ for politics.
Of course, the truth is that, 101 years on from some women gaining the vote, the infrastructures of our political systems continue to conspire to exclude women.

When the first women entered Parliament, beginning with Nancy Astor in 1919, The Palace of Westminster was not designed for women at all.  The only women’s toilet was a quarter of a mile from the debating chamber and a small staff room in the basement, known as ‘the dungeon’ was designated The Lady’s Members Room.  

Women were expected to use this as an office, changing room and everything else. Meanwhile men had access to baths, dining rooms and a smoking room. Things have largely continued in the same vein- with women expected to adapt to the political system, as it is, with little thought given to how it could change to incorporate the realities of womens’ lives.  

This surely, is one main reason why women remain so underrepresented in all layers of government.

Take maternity: in 1976 Labour MP Helene Hayman became the first sitting MP to give birth. When her son was 10 days old she asked the Conservative Whip if she could be paired in order to miss a vote, and received a negative response.  Labour Whips refused her the time off so she came, baby in tow, forced to breastfeed the child in the only suitable place, which happened to be Shirley Williams office. A senior Conservative called the police when she left the baby with his nanny in the Ladies Members room while she voted.

And so things continued like this until last year, Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson was ‘furious’ after Tory Barndon Lewis, who she was paired with, voted in a Brexit vote while she was on maternity leave. This led to Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, delaying a planned caesarean, in case the same thing happened to her.  The outcry over this led to a temporary standing order being introduced to allow new parents to vote by proxy, with Tulip making history when Vicky Foxworthy voted in her behalf in January.

In 2010 a nursery was put in the Palace of Westminster.  Predictably, a complaint followed – about the loss of the bar, about the ‘waste of money’ and, of course, that this was a ‘perk for women.’

The numerous bars which adorn the building are apparently not a perk worthy of comment.  The fact is the changeable nature of Parliamentary debates, with urgent questions and the like, make planning childcare incredibly difficult, for staff as well as Members and a nursery helps.

Last week Parliament debated making the place more family friendly and accessible.

Ellie Reeves said:

“If Parliament is to be truly representative of these we seek to serve, we must continue to look at ways to break down barriers for those who might consider putting themselves forward for public office.”

Why have we not done this already?  

This week MP Stella Creasy announced her pregnancy.  At the same time she bravely told of her experiences of suffering miscarriages and having to continue with her work as an MP while bleeding and in pain. MPs from all parties have commented in support of her campaign for maternity leave for MPs.  

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) regulates the pay of MPs and authorised the budgets they claim for their work. It does not ‘recognise’ that MPs may go on maternity leave and so bears no responsibility to make provision for any paid cover for what they do outside the parliamentary chamber like campaigns and constituency casework.

In Denmark a member of the national parliament would have a substitute MP appointed.  Stella said she felt “forced to choose between being a mum and an MP.”

How many great people are we missing out on because Parliament does not account for the simple fact women have babies?

Why is all the responsibility on the mother, rather than on the structure which is oppressive in penalising parents who wish to serve?

Then there is council, where women and people under 60 continue to be poorly represented, which is a shame because councils should be representative of all groups within the community.

I know that when my children were under 5 I knew much more about local provisions for preschoolers, what was available and what was missing than I do now. That’s not to say I don’t try to be an effective voice for mums battling with services I no longer use, as I will for anyone,  but there is no doubt that councils benefit from people with a broad range of experiences – and at the moment that is rare.

I could not have dreamt of standing for council when my children (now ages 12 and 9) were younger as I could not possibly have been attending committees within days of their births, or managed bath time routines around late meetings, or canvassed while breastfeeding.  

Being a councillor and a mum is difficult: late meetings, casework, reports to read, but I love it. Representing my community is what I always wanted and I am sure there are many other women like me who dare not put themselves forward because the systems are not in place to support them.

It may surprise people to learn that there is no expectation of time off for anyone who has recently given birth, from council work. Only around 5% of councils have baby leave policies.  I’ve heard female councillors being told they must attend meetings within weeks of giving birth and feeling shamed for not ‘pulling their weight.’ This is not good for them, and frankly it is not good for our society.  

Until we act to change things we will continue to exclude people from standing and will not get the representation we need.

Petition for Maternity Leave for MPs:

https://www.change.org/p/marcial-boo-chief-executive-of-the-independent-parliamentary-standards-authority-give-mps-six-months-parental-leave?signed=true&fbclid=IwAR0IlkD_xjnQ4sRPZ-LoQJTWtQA-D6MQiMJ8uGkD–L_1Ow9bmbZNaFbUkI

Let’s Judge Our Second Female Prime Minister on Her Policies Not Her Clothing By Kelly Grehan 

As her premiership came to an abrupt end yesterday, Theresa May said:

 

“I am proud to have served the country as the second female Prime Minister but certainly not the last” 

 

Now, I’m not a fan of Theresa May, I despair about many of the policies brought in by her government and the legacy she leaves across the country is, in my opinion, one of toxicity and division. 

 

However, as a feminist, I also despair about the misogynistic undercurrent they runs through the way stories are written about Theresa May.

 

 Take this front page from The Metro

 

The insinuation is hard to miss: that a woman needs a man to tell what to do, even  when when she holds the highest office in the land, that it’s about time her husband puts his foot down and takes control of his wife. Can you imagine a similar headline about David Cameron or Tony Blair?

 

It brought to mind this Daily Mail front page from the week before Article 50 was triggered.

 

 

 

Now, I’ve had a good search and I cannot find a single article about David Cameron’s legs. Just think what could have been reported about a meeting between two female leaders who met to discuss the future of our nation. With this kind of news reporting is it any wonder so many people appear without a grasp of the complexities of our political system. Is it too much to expect some content about what they actually said at the press conference from which this phot was taken?

 

 

The other thing very notable about news stories about Theresa May’s Prime Minister is how many centre around her clothing.

 

For example, not long after she became PM, in 2016, The Guardian wrote a story called ‘Theresa May sidesteps question about £995 leather trousers.’ In a country used to reading about politicians sidestepping questions about offshore tax havens and dodgy business deals, this seemed a particularly weak scandal.

 

Similarly, the 2018 budget caused then to publish a story called ‘What is the meaning of Theresa May’s £750 ‘twofer’ coat?’

 

In January 2017 the Evening Standard, edited by former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, printed an article entitled ‘Theresa May’s finest footwear: 30 memorable looks from parliament’s most talked about shoe closet’

 

Even last week, days before the EU election The Telegraph printed a story called ‘Theresa May’s Greatest Shoe Hits.’

 

I’m sure I could go on, but you get the point. This ridiculous, trivial analysis would simply not be applied to a man holding the same office, and it’s very triviality demeans the person it is applied to. We should be debating Theresa May’s decisions, policies and principles, if for no other reason they they impact on all our lives.

 

But for as long as women are assessed based on their shoes, coats and marital relationships women will be put off entering politics and equality will remain out of our reach.

 

 

 

 

Why Abuse Of Women In Politics Hinders Democracy By Kelly Grehan

100 years on from some women gaining the vote in the UK and 99 years from the same action in the US you would think women’s participation in the political process would be accepted, if not completely ordinary and unworthy of comment.  However, far from being the case, women in politics remain viewed as interlopers and unwelcome by many.  

 

Let’s look at the evidence for why I say this: 

 

This week, 29 year old Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is described as a rising star in the American Democrat Party, faced the seemingly inevitable abuse that comes with being a woman in politics.

A right wing website published an image showing a woman’s bare feet in the bath, under the headline: “Here’s the photo some people described as a nude selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”  

The photo was, as it happens, not of the Congresswoman, but that’s not really the point.  

 As Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter the actions of the Daily Caller were “just a matter of time” as “women in leadership face more scrutiny [than men]. Period.” She went on to say :

 

Last week attempts to shame the same Congresswoman by releasing a video of her dancing from a few years before backfired when she responded with a new video of her dancing:

 https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1081234130841600000

Over 80% of women in politics, globally have experinced sexist or sexually humiliating remarks, gestures or threats and harassment which fell outside the normal political debate.  

Then there is the bizarre judgement of any women in fertility being, as former Australian Prime Minister said Even before becoming prime minister, I had observed that if you are a woman politician, it is impossible to win on the question of family.

If you do not have children then you are characterised as out of touch with ‘mainstream lives’. If you do have children then, heavens, who is looking after them?I had already been chided by a senior conservative Senator for being ‘deliberately barren.’

 

Men just do not face this kind of commentary of their circumstances.  

  

Seeking to humiliate women in politics is just the tip of the iceberg: last year a global survey of women in politics, found that 44% had faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.  As  SNP MP,  Mhairi Black said ‘”I’m bored of gender. I’m bored of being told I should be raped and bored of being told I’m too ugly to be raped.”

 

Jess Phillips, who, lest we forget, lost her friend, MP Jo Cox to murder by a member of the far right tweeted this week:

 

With about a 50% chance of threats of violence and sexual assault hanging over them, is it any wonder so few women want to get involved in politics?

 

Globally more than 10,500 women served as national parliamentarians in 2017, accounting for around 23 percent of total parliamentarians worldwide. In the UK, over the last century there have been just 491 female MPs and more than 4,000 male MPs.

 

A Report, Violence Against Women In Politics, published last year found that reports that ‘growing acts of violence serve as a strong barrier to women accessing their right to participate fully and equally in politics and public life.’

 

Normalising the abuse of public figures – and dismissing sexism and misogyny in the political world – as simply the ‘cost of doing politics’ has devastating consequences for the quality of democracy – Around one third of female politicians who have threatened with violence online stopped expressing their opinions there or withdrew from public conversations as a result. We cannot know the number of brilliant women who are deterred from entering politics because of fear of bringing violence upon themselves and their families, but there can be no doubt there are many.

Let us be in no doubt, the  abuse of women is pushed by those who believe women have no place in politics and so must be shamed, smeared and harassed until they give up.

 It is for all good people to stand up against those with this agenda.

Can We Talk About Periods? By Sarah Crook and Kelly Grehan

Recently we came across the picture above and loved it.  We talked about copying the wording and using it for an art exhibition on women we are involved with. We decided it was not suitable for a family audience, which got us thinking about why periods are such a taboo subject?

Why aren’t they freely discussed?

We remember our own mothers being shocked when sanitary towel adverts were first allowed on TV in the early 1990s.

In fact in 1993 an advert featuring Claire Raynor for Vespre Sanitary towels was banned following 700 complaints that concerned matters such offence being taken ‘about the format in which lots of women talk freely and easily in their own words about the product.’

Comments included things like ‘I didn’t know where to look when it came on and my husband was sitting beside me.’

The complaints led to sanitary adverts being banned between 4pm and 9pm.

More recently the advert above was banned on the New York subway because of the language used.

The first-time menstrual blood was depicted as red in an advert (as opposed to as blue) was in October 2017!

Why does the mention of periods remain a taboo?

Why does a perfectly natural process, one which without which we wouldn’t exist, still cause embarrassment and shame?

Does ‘discomfort’ come from ancient beliefs that menstruation is dirty?

This belief continued in numerous cultures and religions and was one reason why women were deemed unfit to hold positions such as priests.

The Old Testament makes numerous references to bleeding women being unclean (see here http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp)

Given that they are experienced by half the population, women are likely to bleed for between 2,250 to 3,000-plus days across their lifetimes and a quarter of women of reproductive age are menstruating at any one time – So why are periods still such a taboo?

From the time we start menstruating; girls are taught that periods are something to keep a secret and that sanitary towels are to be kept hidden.

Research has found that women go to lengths to hide their period — from concealing tampons and pads at the bottom of their shopping basket, to putting a used pad in their handbag when there is no bin in a bathroom.

We recall trying to work out the least conspicuous way to go to the toilet at work with a tampon, is it to take our whole bag, hide it up our sleeve or squeeze it tightly in our fist and hope no one sees?

Some women experience their first period as young as 8 years old now. Feelings of shame or embarrassment at a completely natural process are reinforced before they even hit being a teenager.

If it’s not openly discussed and spoken about honestly by all in society then how are we supposed to allay their fears and feelings of shame?

Only when periods are openly and honestly discussed in the media, at home and at schools can we set about change.

Education for all that enables women to feel empowered and comfortable by the natural processes of their bodies is needed.

We have both started using moon cups and it is astonishing how many women view them as a “bit disgusting!”

Of course, this stigma continues into other female associated words, with most women terrified to use the word vagina, often using euphemisms like ‘mini’ or ‘nunny.’

Very rarely do we hear the word vagina used in conversation or the media.

We would guess this avoidance to talk about our own bodies leads to the gynecological cancers being often undiagnosed until it is too late.  

Women suffering in silence or too scared to speak to doctors with health issues related to vaginas. We don’t tend to have nicknames for other parts of the body like arms and legs!

We believe stigma around menstruation is a form of misogyny. Negative taboos condition us to understand menstrual function as something to be hidden, something shameful.

This leads on to the issue of period poverty.

Anyone who has seen the film I, Daniel Blake will recall the harrowing scenes where Katie, played by Hayley Squires is driven to shoplifting sanitary towels, having been sanctioned by the benefit office and having found there were no sanitary products at the food bank.

Hayley Sims, ‘I Daniel Blake’

A recent survey of 14 to 21-year olds by Plan International found that 15% of girls have struggled to afford sanitary care at some point, with one in ten girls admitting to borrowing or improvising with sanitary products.

Shockingly, 7% of girls described using socks, newspaper or fabric to get through their period, in place of tampons or pads.

Plan International’s findings highlight that there are a significant number of girls in the UK whose daily lives are impacted by period poverty, both physically and emotionally, as taboo’s around menstruation are impacting girls’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Scotland has taken a step forward to becoming the first country to outlaw period poverty as Labour plans to formally introduce the legislation at the Scottish Parliament.

Monica Lennon’s member’s Bill has won the backing of each of the five parties at Holyrood, giving her the right to press forward.

Her proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill would create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products.

We recently started running a Red Box Project in Dartford (https://www.facebook.com/RedBoxProjectDartford/).

This is a project where women set up drop off points for sanitary products and then give them to schools to give to girls in need.

All the effects of poverty are cruel, of course, but there is something particularly desperate about a girl trying to learn whilst worrying about bleeding through her school uniform, feeling unclean all day and the dreadful impact this has on a girl’s self-esteem.

The fact that periods are treated by taboo by many will reinforce those feelings for that girl.

The response we have had from the community has been fantastic, although we have received criticism, including one woman calling us ‘pseudo feminists’ trying to solve ‘a non-existent problem’ and ‘favouring women over men.’

Of course, this just spurred us on, but it showed the disdain some people hold those unable to afford sanitary products in.

We believe girls, dealing with the misery that puberty almost inevitably brings, as well as all the stresses of school, friendships and modern adolescents, should be spared the embarrassment of period poverty.

We hope our Red Box Project makes some difference.

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