International Women’s Day – #AskHerToStand

100 years since women got the vote, and Parliament still woefully lags behind in terms of gender equality.

Whilst there are more women in Parliament than ever before, we are still on 32% of the Commons. We languish at 49th in the world for the number of women in Parliament. At this rate it will take 50 years to achieve gender equality in Parliament. 100 years after women won the right to vote 50:50 are aiming to achieve better gender balance in Parliament sooner than this.

I was thrilled to join 50:50 Parliament earlier this year as an Ambassador and Liberal Democrat representative. We work together as a cross-party team, with the aim of getting more women from across the political spectrum to stand and win Parliamentary seats.

So what can you do to make a gender balanced Parliament a reality, and to make it happen in less than 50 years?

  1. #AskHerToStand – know a woman who would be brilliant in Parliament? Ask her. Encourage her. Support her. An easy way to do this is through 50:50’s #AskHerToStand website. She’ll receive an email with a message from you about why she should take the plunge. 50:50 can also offer support through events and mentoring. If you’re asking a Lib Dem woman to stand, make sure you point her to the Campaign for Gender Balance. They can train and mentor on everything from improving public speaking; managing a campaign team to winning a selection.
  1. Support women candidates at all levels in the party – 50:50 focuses on Parliament, but we don’t have enough women at all levels of Government. A study from IPPR in 2017 showed that only 33% of councillors and 17% of council leaders are women. In my own area of Tower Hamlets it is particularly stark. Out of 45 councillors, only 12 are women. The official opposition party is entirely male. There are women up and down the country that are running for office and rebuilding their local parties. You can read more about 17 of them on Lib Dem Expand here: https://libdemexpand.co.uk/2018/02/06/100-years-since-women-first-got-the-vote/ It helpfully includes links to their Fighting Funds as well.
  1. Are women getting the space to shine in your area? Jo Swinson talks eloquently in her book “Equal Power” about the emotional labour that women do. In workplaces and families, this the role women often take on to make sure there is ‘glue’ that holds a team together. This is everything from organising birthday cards; mentoring junior people to making sure there are events to bring people together. Think about who is doing this on your campaign and in your local party. Is it women who organise or host most of the non-campaign events? Who does most of the welcoming and introducing people to each other? Who does the bulk of the tea-making? If this work is skewed towards one woman or a small group of them, consider how you can change your team to stop this happening and to give those women more opportunities to shine at other things. Our party doesn’t have enough women in roles throughout the party. I rarely meet women agents, and I know of two campaign officer roles advertised recently that had no female candidates. We need to give women experience and opportunities at the many different roles in campaigns and in the party, and make sure they’re not just doing the emotional labour that brings a team together.

Finally, a big thanks to Dipa Vaya, who in true #AskHerToStand fashion messaged me to say 50:50 were looking for someone from the Lib Dems to work with and that she thought I’d be fab. It is amazing what a few words of encouragement can do for you!

* Elaine Bagshaw was the candidate for Poplar and Limehouse in the 2017 General Election. She is a former chair of Liberal Youth and a past member of the Federal Executive.

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9 Comments

  • This article is spot on. I think most people (of any gender) do not realise the impact that being asked to stand can have. Too many of us assume that our talented friend already knows that they are talented! Many years ago, I only got involved in the Lib Dem Youth and Students because (the much missed) Neil Trafford told me I would be great as their Media Officer and encouraged me, and then Simon Foster literally collected me from my house to take me to conference to stand, and a whole gang of people supported me and helped me from then until today. I also love that you’re pointing out that it’s not only Westminster’s Parliament where we need people, but in every local party and every level of job too. So anyone else reading this, please do ask a talented woman (or other under-represented person) to go for something!

  • Well said, Miranda.

  • Ruth Bright 8th Mar '18 - 9:04pm

    I love the assumption that women always need training on public speaking. Many women we might ask probably already have the skills they need to stand. Training local parties on basic equalities’ expectations is more to the point.

  • @ Ruth Bright Spot on. Well said, Ruth.

    Here’s my heroine, little Ellen Wilkinson MP for Jarrow, the mighty atom, giving some stick to Neville Chamberlain in Trafalgar Square after Munich in 1938 – the same year that she gave the inaugural speech on the first ever Internatioal Women’s Day, A former Suffragist, she didn’t need any training. The sound kicks in after 27 seconds.

    HD Stock Video Footage – A speech by Ellen Wilkinson during Peace …
    Video for ellen wilkinson speeches▶ 2:22
    http://www.criticalpast.com/…/65675053793_Ellen-Wilkinson_Peace-Cam

  • Sorry, Ruth. You’ll have to google it.

  • 50:50 Parliament needs a lot of LDW to get involved. I’ve been an ambassador for them for a few years now but don’t have a seat above council level and they look for parliamentary candidates with seats and MPs and peers for their events. Labour and the Tories are heavily represented at these with MPs and peers. We need the CGB team as involved as Women2Win by the Tories and certain Labour MPs are.

    We also need not elected candidates at all levels to commit time to their stalls and attend their events. My work hours restrict my attendance and many but I attend what I can.

    Great Elaine is now involved and if not at conference on Sunday I hope to see you at WoW on the 50:50 stall.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Mar '18 - 9:19am

    Thanks David and Ian. Ellen Wilkinson – what’s not to love?

  • Mick Taylor 9th Mar '18 - 9:33am

    Ruth Bright is absolutely right. Training local parties is far more important. Far too often women are not asked to be candidates because the person asking doesn’t see women in that way. When they think of a candidate they think of a man and probably a white man. I can still remember when I was first a young party member of people (usually men but not always) telling me that women were no use as candidates because they polled less votes than a man. I thought it was disgraceful then! Much more recently I have heard openly racist comments about the suitability of a parliamentary candidate. So there’s still along way to go.
    As the person responsible for finding candidates locally, I have always tried to get a balanced ticket (and usually succeeded) 50% men and women with representation of minorities and LGBT+.
    If you don’t consider women, minorities and LGBT+ then you won’t end up having councillors and MPs who look like UK society.

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