There Still Aren’t Enough Women In Politics. Could Tomorrow’s Local Elections Change This?

Women are being put off politics but Equal Power is working to change this, says Hannah Swirsky from the Centenary Action Group.

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by Grazia |

Tomorrow, elections will be taking place across the country, including Mayoral and local councils in England, Senedd elections in Wales and the Scottish Parliament elections. The pandemic has proved that the 'old boys club' does not lead to effective policy making and more diverse women in power are needed more than ever.

Through Equal Power, a coalition of organisations are working to change the face of politics and ensure women in all our diversity are equally represented. We’ve spoken to some of the extraordinary women standing in this year’s elections to share their inspiring stories of the hurdles they’ve overcome to get where they are and why they want to keep on fighting.

We know that diversity drives more effective and inclusive policymaking and allows governments to better represent the populations they serve. Research shows that parliaments are more likely to substantively tackle life-saving issues for women, including ending violence against women and maternal mortality, when an increased number of female legislators are elected.

And these issues are more important than ever since women have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. During the pandemic, domestic violence has increased with victims struggling to find a refuge space, and women have borne the brunt of redundancies and increased caring responsibilities. For Black, Asian and ethnic minority women, Disabled women and women on low incomes, these inequalities are further compounded.

Women have largely been invisible from the decision-making table.

Yet, women have largely been invisible from the decision-making table. This may explain why the self-employed income support did not exempt maternity leave from earnings, leaving new mothers financially disadvantaged. Despite making up 51% of the UK population, only 34% of MPs and just 35% of local councillors across England and Wales are women. There has never been a female metro mayor and there are currently no women of colour in either the Scottish or Welsh Parliament. Women continue to face barriers that prevent them from entering a career in politics and public life.

Discrimination in party selection processes and the financial costs of contesting an election, which is even more expensive for those with disabilities, can both put women off. For women who are elected, a lack of parental leave, the inaccessibility of meetings (with remote measures coming to an end next month) and high levels of online abuse makes equal participation difficult. Just last year Siobhan Baillie MP was subjected to an onslaught of abuse when she took four weeks off work after giving birth and, in the run up to the 2017 election, Diane Abbott received almost half of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs, which highlights the disproportionate amount of abuse faced by women of colour.

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Jessie Joe Jacobs, the Labour candidate for Tees Valley mayor ©Equal Power

Jessie Joe Jacobs, the Labour candidate for Tees Valley mayor, wants to ensure 'women are given the priority they deserve' and challenge violence against women in all its forms. If she wins, Jacobs will be the UK’s first female metro mayor.

Jihyun Park, who is hoping to become a Conservative councillor in Bury, Greater Manchester, is thought to be the first person of North Korean descent to contest an election in the UK. Park wants to 'pay back the people who helped [her]' when she first came to this country.

Dr Sarabajaya Kumar is a UCL professor, activist, and Women's Equality Party candidate for the Greater London Assembly. Speaking from the perspective of a Disabled woman of colour, Kumar hopes that 'if other people see that I am involved in politics, and that people see me for me, rather than my disability, or my colour, or the fact that I am a woman first, that they will think ‘I can do that too’!'

For Hackney Deputy Mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, being able to advocate on behalf of the community drives her work in politics. When asked what she is most proud of, it is that her aspiration for a diverse curriculum has come to fruition with 'Hackney's Diverse Curriculum - The Black Contribution'. 'This curriculum has started to tell some of the untold stories of Black contributors in our British history. It is written by our teachers and is free to all schools. Nearly 600 schools, including schools abroad, have signed up so far.'

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Hackney Deputy Mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble ©Equal Power

We hope tomorrow’s elections see more diverse women in power. But there’s more to do so that future elections have equal numbers of women standing – this time just one-third of candidates in the English council elections are women. Less than one in four Police and Crime Commissioner candidates and only one in four mayoral candidates are women.

The Equal Power programme is part of the solution. Together, we’re offering free online training and peer support to motivate women to get involved in politics and to equip them with the knowledge and confidence they need to become MPs, councillors, and community leaders. We are also campaigning to bring down the barriers that keep women out of elected office.

If you have been frustrated about the lack of women involved in Covid-19 decision-making and inspired by other women to get more involved in politics, whether that means using your voice online, campaigning for a political party or standing for an election, then sign up for Equal Power here. You don't need any existing knowledge or experience. You can sign up for several different sessions or just one, whichever works for you.

Centenary Action Group is a cross-party coalition of organisations and activists campaigning to remove the barriers to women’s political participation and representation. We are #StillMarching.

READ MORE: Sexism, Pregnancy, Death Threats – What It's Like To Be A Woman In Westminster

READ MORE: Jess Phillips: 'Women In Politics Have Brought About Hope In A Time Of Turbulence'

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