Rachael Saunders has written a blog for Left Food Forward, arguing that Labour urgently needs a leader who will lead for women.
Sadly, for many of us, the 2010 election campaign will be remembered as the one in which women were near invisible. Despite having an excellent woman deputy leader wholeheartedly committed to women’s equality, and despite the record numbers of women MPs elected since 1997, we still need to do more if we are to fully represent the communities we seek to serve. This isn’t just an issue with gender – we need to be more diverse in every way – but women are half of every community.
I am glad that we have a woman on the ballot paper in this leadership election. We still need to hold each of the leadership contenders to account. A group of women activists have signed up to a letter to try and make sure that happens.
There is a policy debate to be had, and we must make sure that women’s voices are heard in that, but that is not the primary purpose of this letter. This letter sets out what we believe the leader of the Labour Party needs to do to ensure our party operates in a way that reflects the importance we all place on equality.
There are a number of policy issues that are often categorised as “women’s issues”. I want a leader who leads on rape legislation just as he leads on anti social behaviour, on childcare as on school standards. Women MPs have made the running on issues such as domestic violence, childcare and flexible working, and I am grateful to them. Now our male leaders must also take responsibility.
We are also calling for gender balance throughout the shadow ministerial team and in local government. We elected a record number of women in 1997, but still we are in a position where only one was willing to stand for leader. That has to change next time, and one step is giving women opportunities in shadow office. Women’s voices must be heard at every level and in every policy area.
Local government is also important. We have the chance to exercise power at council level and in some devolved bodies over the next five years; let’s make women’s voices are heard equally there too.
Too often in the Labour Party I am disheartened and I see others knocked by casual sexism, whether it be the assumption that you’ll make the tea because you’re the only girl in the room, or outright sexual harassment. We can change that, but it will take a real political willing to admit that there’s a problem, and real leadership from the top.
Let’s make sure our next leader leads for women. We’ll be asking all the leadership contenders what they think of our proposals – I hope you will too. Read the full text of our letter on lead4women.wordpress.com and do sign up in support if you too want to see a leader that Leads for Women.