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.  


21 thoughts on “A Woman’s Place Is On The Ballot By Kelly Grehan

  1. Fully agree with your argument but even us oldies know that there is a problem with the representation of women in the Labour party let’s hope this can be changed

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to agree about the under-representation. As a Labour Party Chair myself, I can’t recall ever having met a female Chair and that is really regrettable.

    I have tried locally to organise a suitable environment for those with childcare needs – we have tried to accommodate children at meetings but unfortunately the laws that govern child safety also make this harder. If were to set up “proper” childcare facilities, people would have to be vetted and insurance taken out in case of accidents etc. This makes it prohibitive due to cost/potential risk. Also even at the events where we do have modest childcare facilities (at the parent’s own risk), the women still don’t attend those meetings. We have the same issue with BAME members too.

    This means that if the attendees at a meeting are around 70% men, then it will be men debating women’s issues. In Dartford Labour Party we are lucky to have members with tolerance and a lack of prejudice (recently a motion was passed unanimously regarding transphobia – other constituencies have members who regularly attack trans people) but it’s difficult sometimes for a man with no experience of these problems to fully understand them.

    The one thing that’s not relevant to Dartford Labour Party is the making the tea/taking the minutes. We don’t have a tea break (although I’m looking to extend the meeting time to reinstate these – and I used to help make the tea!). The last 2 secretaries have been women, so they’re bound to take the minutes but if they aren’t there I ask someone randomly (in fact the Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, Josh Jones has taken them on more than one occasion).

    I will say that we have a room available at our HQ so that for Executive Committee Meetings in particular there should never be a childcare issue. We also have gender equality on our EC and also on our Local Campaign Forum Committee (of which Kelly is Secretary and doing a great job!).

    I think the key point is the last point, women need to get involved. So to all the women reading this – if you think you don’t have what it take to make a difference – you do! Please do join us! Get involved in anyway you can, you’ll be made to feel very welcome.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I completely agree. You’re right – women’s voices are needed to move society forward. I hope that with all the movements going on, more women will run for public office and move us forward. Thank you for sharing this. Wish you the best – speak766

    Liked by 1 person

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