Politics has historically been dominated by men. Parliament has never been gender-balanced and despite the first female MP taking her seat in 1919, we have only had 2 female Prime Ministers in the 100 years since.
Our party has not yet produced a female leader, let alone a prime minister. Labour has been committed to closing this inequality gap for some years but the means of achieving this have been somewhat controversial.
The Labour Party adopted policy of ‘Positive Discrimination’. This was implemented at every level within the party, from local Branches to CLP executives, Councillor selections, Regional Committees, National executives and even MPs. It enforced fairness of the highest order; for every male candidate elected or nominated, a female must be elected or nominated too. When a female left a seat, she was to be replaced by another female using an all female shortlist.
When I came into the labour party 3 years ago I was perplexed by the notion of using discrimination to bring about equality, it seemed amusingly ironic and I was quite strongly opposed to it.
I felt that as a young woman I would have a hard enough time being taken seriously in the political world without the added pressure of constantly feeling like I needed to prove myself because I had been given some sort of preferential treatment or unfair advantage instead of earning what I achieved. However, my own experiences have changed my attitude towards it.
First of all, I had drastically underestimated how daunting a male-dominated political world could be. The more I got involved in the party the more I realised just how few active females there were. On occasion I was the only female to attend my branch meetings and at CLPs women were often outnumbered by men 10 to 1. I was never made to feel unwelcome, quite the opposite, but still I couldn’t help sometimes feeling that maybe I did not belong.
I am a confident and outgoing person and even I was having doubts, so I could see that it might be completely off putting to a woman who was shy or lacking confidence. I shudder to imagine what it must have been like decades ago given that my experiences were during a period of positive discrimination. The women who came before me must have felt like aliens.
I realised that shortfall of active females within Labour meant that new women coming into the party would not stick around and if those women did not stick around there would never be more women. It was a complete catch 22 and labour, to their credit, were doing their best to address it. My criticism of positive discrimination ended upon this realisation.
The truth is, positive discrimination is working. It has ensured that young women like me come into the party and stay.
I have been elected onto the branch and CLP executives and am elected to the CAC North West for the second year running. I can’t deny that I probably got put forward for those positions as a result of positive discrimination. Does that mean I was handed them on a plate and didn’t earn them? No. I still had to be elected. I still had to beat other women to get there.
Labour are now leading the way in terms of gender balanced politics with a huge 45% of Labours MP’s being female, compared to just 21% of Conservatives.
Sooner or later we will be able to put this phase behind us and move forward with a wonderful gender balanced party that naturally maintains itself but for now we need to continue to encourage female engagement and ensure that we have plenty of good quality ladies to wear red rosettes in future elections.