I have been watching for some months with interest the role of women in politics, and the recent talk of a reshuffle to move women to the front bench by David Cameron has prompted me to ask what of women in the Labour Party today, in particular what it means for us in Sedgemoor, writes Barbara O’Connor.
To put it simply, there are not enough women in politics at all levels, including party membership. I do believe it’s harder for us to balance the roles we take on. It can’t be easy juggling child care with work for instance. But we only have to look at Harriet Harman who entered parliament heavily pregnant or indeed Barbara Castle who was one of our longest serving female MPs to know that it is possible (she started off as a councillor at St Pancreas Borough Council).
We have an opportunity to stand and represent our families and neighbours and to be proud to represent our beliefs as members of the Labour Party. Often it is said that local politics drives national politics. How sad, it would be for us as women if we did not take full advantage of the upcoming local elections in 2015 to move forward.
Politics is very ‘Male Orientated’
Politics is very male orientated and everything that evolves around it from times of meetings to where they are held has been built up by men for men. Whilst no female politician would like to think she was chosen because of her gender the reality is that 50% of our population is under represented. Women have so much to offer the political system; equal representation would massively improve it and offer a broader perspective.
Reading an article by Reema Patel, National Secretary of the Fabian Women’s Network Executive she says ‘ if the glass ceiling is to be broken with a hammer, it appears, the hammer has to be collectively lifted’. In other words the more of us there are the fewer taps of the hammer it will take. When women are in the company of other women it inspires confidence and empowers us all collectively.
How wonderful it would be if our local council had a strong female presence. I worry for the future, how can we attract young women into local politics if there are no female role models for them to aspire too or indeed how we can expect them to vote if their choice is a candidate they cannot identify with?
Bringing ‘life experiences’ to the table
As women we can suffer from a ‘confidence deficit’ when considering entering public life. It can be a broken system in the way it excludes minorities or people who are poor and it can take courage. But if we don’t raise our head above the parapet there is danger that our local councils will be driven by men, who may have different priorities to us and not fully represent our views.
Yes, these men have families and understand some of the difficulties we face, but as women and of course individuals we can bring life experiences to the table which are different e.g. balancing home and work life as mothers. It’s about changing a culture and bringing balance. The attempts to increase women in parliament have brought priority to issues such as women’s health and domestic violence. Isn’t it time we looked to make our voices heard in our communities by working on our local councils?
In Ireland the law changed in 2012 to ensure that at least 30 per cent of candidates in elections will be women, rising to 40% or more by 2022. I understand that France also has gender quotas. Perhaps this is something we ought to be pushing our MPs for, even if it means a cross party discussion?
The Labour Party does use ‘all women shortlists’ (AWS) and is the only political party to do so. This makes compulsory the selection of women candidates in some constituencies and is designed to increase female representation. Whilst this had its opponents it does present us with an opportunity to exploit. In particular I would like to see it used to recruit ethnic minority women into politics. Again, this will only happen if we put ourselves forward. Encouraging in both 1997 and 2005, fifty per cent of women MPs were selected from all women short lists.
The upcoming elections are your opportunity to change that either by ensuring you vote Labour Party women in or by joining in locally by becoming a party member or putting yourself forward to stand.
The Somerset Labour Party website has a wealth of information on who we are and what we believe in.