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We’re really excited to have a letter published in the Guardian today, supporting the Lead for Women letter to the Labour leadership candidates, and calling for radical action to transform our Party.

The Guardian letter is signed by women from right across the Party, including NEC members, MPs and grassroots activists.

Labour must lead on women’s issues

The Guardian, Friday 16 July 2010

We support Harriet Harman’s call for 50:50 gender balance in Labour’s shadow cabinet. We are proud of the Labour party’s record in tackling inequality between women and men and in supporting families. But these achievements were too low on the agenda at the last election. Today, we are issuing a clear challenge to all the Labour leadership candidates. It is time to commit ourselves to taking radical steps to transform the party to become more representative and to win women’s votes, or face a long future in opposition.

Labour is unrepresentative from the grassroots to the top of the party. Just one Labour MP in three is a women. Our women politicians were relegated to the sidelines during the election campaign. Yet we know that women want to see more “people like me” in politics. Labour failed to reach out to female voters. Despite our progress on gender equality when in government, during the campaign we failed to show that we understand the reality of women’s lives. As a result Labour lost support from women across all age groups.

Almost 200 women have now signed the Lead for Women letter and together we are calling on all the leadership candidates to set out their own plan of action for Labour Party renewal, ensuring: equal numbers of women and men in the shadow cabinet; equal and meaningful women’s representation across the whole shadow government, and across the party as a whole; issues that affect women and priorities for women voters will be Labour’s priorities too.

Olivia Bailey

Hannah Blythyn

Katie Curtis

Cllr Helen Gibson

Edwina Hart AM

Diana Holland

Oona King

Fiona Mactaggart MP

Angela Mason

Deborah Mattinson

Dame Julie Mellor

Susan Nash

Ellie Reeves

Claire Reynolds

Dame Jane Roberts

Cllr Rachael Saunders

Cllr Rohini Simbodyal

Nan Sloane

Cath Speight

Norma Stephenson

Helen Symons

Kitty Ussher

Melanie Ward

Harriet Yeo

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We’ve now heard from four of the candidates for the Labour leadership about how they will ‘lead for women’.

In her reply to our letter, Diane Abbott says:

I believe that a Parliament that is genuinely reflective of the electorate should be a priority for all of us and that Labour should lead the way, as it has always done.

But despite Labour’s fantastic record on bringing women into Parliament, we have simply not done enough. For me, politicians have bought into the idea that only men in suits can be leaders and that only men in suits have the credibility to attend major economic conventions. But the leaders of the future will not always look like the leaders of the past and if we are to be truly progressive then our vision must be progressive and radical too.

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Three out of the five candidates for the Labour leadership have now replied to the Lead for Women letter.

In his reply, Ed Balls says:

Thank you for writing to me about gender equality within the Labour Party. This is a crucial issue for the whole Labour movement and for women across the country.

Labour has always been the party of equality. But though we have made great progress as a result of campaigns often led by women in the Labour Party, we still don’t have equality for women in Britain and we still need a stronger voice for women in our Party too.

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David Miliband has now become the second of the Labour leadership candidates to reply to our letter. You can read his reply in full here. In it, he says:

Thank you for your letter which raises important issues not just for our party but for our country…

…one of the key planks of my campaign will be to look at the systemic issues preventing women from entering and thriving in politics. I am determined to break down those barriers so that women see being a politician as a job for them where they can achieve change.

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We’re delighted to have received the first reply to our letter to the Labour leadership candidates from Ed Miliband.

In it, he says:

I welcome the Lead for Women initiative, both because you have highlighted such an important problem as part of this leadership contest, and because your actions are a fantastic example of grassroots party members coming together and organising around issues that matter…

…From the struggle for suffrage, to the Sex Discrimination Act, to the minimum wage and women trade unionists battling for equal pay, the Labour party has fought side by side with the women’s movement. I’m proud of that history, but I’m also passionate about the need for greater progress – I will be the Leader who leads for women.

You can read Ed’s reply in full here.

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We’re delighted that in just a few days over a hundred Labour women have signed our open letter to the leadership candidates calling on them to ‘lead for women’. You can read the letter here.

To add your support, please email your name and CLP or Labour affiliate to lead4women@yahoo.co.uk.

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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.

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Today, we are launching an open letter to all the candidates for the Labour leadership. You can read it in full here. In it, we say:

We are proud of Labour’s record on equality, but far too many women are put off politics before they even contemplate standing for election – and there are still far too many barriers that stop women from being meaningfully involved at every level in the Party. The fact that the 2010 election has been widely referred to as ‘the election in which women were invisible’ shows a clear and pressing need for action.

We are asking all the candidates for the Party leadership to reply to us, and set out their agenda for changing the Party to make it more representative of women, from branch meetings to the shadow cabinet table. We’ll be publishing their replies in full as soon as we have them.

We want them to commit to action in 5 key areas:

  1. Commit to speak out on issues that affect women.
  2. Act to ensure gender balance at every level of the Labour Party.
  3. Support a meaningful and well-resourced national, regional and local organisational and campaigning structure for women within the Party.
  4. Take personal responsibility for a cultural change from the top to the bottom of the Party to tear down the barriers that stop women getting or staying involved.
  5. Install a transparent and accessible complaints procedure that takes complaints seriously and acts quickly.

We want as many Labour women to sign the letter as possible. Email lead4women@yahoo.co.uk with your name and CLP or affiliate, and we’ll add your name.

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