Two small steps for Labour, one giant leap for women


This week the NEC will take women’s representation in the Labour Party a step forward.

On Tuesday we will finalise plans to end all-male panels at Labour Party Conference. Following yet another year of all-male panels, including some high-profile offenders, there is a view among members that enough is enough – not just among the women that often go under-represented, but among the men who agree with our campaign and want to know that they won’t be asked to be on an all-male panel.

Seema Malhotra took an early lead on this, others such as Emma Burnell and Kirstin Hay have lent their voice and, prior to conference, Jacqui Smith and I resolved to take this issue forward. Labour Women’s Network has rightly been coordinating the campaign and relentlessly takes it to the top levels of the party. Last week the NEC Equalities Committee agreed that action should be taken.

All-male panels are damaging because they sustain a political environment and culture in which women are excluded. Giving women a platform helps to end this cycle of exclusion, while giving us the experience and exposure to start breaking down the barriers to further progression. It also has a wider impact on women’s representation by providing role models for future generations. In a world where women earn less than men for the same work, one in four is likely to suffer gendered violence at the hands of a man, and yet only one in five MPs is a woman, women’s voices desperately need to be heard. It’s clear that action is needed.

With the support of Harriet Harman, NEC members and party staff, this is now being decisively addressed. Any organisation applying to hold fringe events at next year’s party conference will be told that the Labour Party, as the party of equality, takes women’s representation seriously and, as such, event organisers will have to confirm upon application that their event will not be an all-male panel. Fringe organisers will also be offered help in finding women to speak at their events if needed. This is a fantastic step forward and underlines Labour’s commitment to lead the way on gender equality.

In addition, we’ve also made progress for women in our selections. At last Tuesday’s NEC Org Sub we approved plans for the London mayoral selection, which help to put women candidates on a more equal footing with men.

From the creation of all-women shortlists until 2011, Labour reserved nomination places for women alongside open nomination places (for any gender). This is the norm across the party rule book. For some inexplicable reason this was changed to a man’s place and a woman’s place, removing the option for CLPs to nominate two women if they wished to do so. Normal service has now been resumed.

We need to see more women getting selected in open selections, and preventing local parties from nominating more than one woman if they wished to do so was unhelpful. We need to send a clear signal that open selections are not “men’s seats”. There are already enough barriers facing women in selections.

Moving forward, these measures will be applied to all parliamentary selections, with branches being able to nominate one woman and one person of any gender.

There’s still a lot more to do to reach a position where as many women as men are selected through open shortlists and we avoid the all-male shortlists that are still commonplace, but I’m proud that we’re making progress.

I look forward to finally seeing an end to male-dominated selection shortlists and all-male panels, and eagerly await the day that we have as many women as men in parliament, leading for Labour in our cities and counties and being heard on all the big political issues of the day.

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