Here’s a piece I wrote today for the Mirror, which you can also find here.
As government cuts hit hard, women are fighting back. Older women groups are forming action groups like Women Against State Pension Inequality. Younger women are leaping online to sign petitions. But very few women are joining political parties.
This is particularly damaging for the Labour Party, which has more support among women than men at the polling booths, but suffers from fewer women in the party than men.
Only four in ten members are women, they’re less likely to get involved, and they’re more likely to be driven away if they do.
The left must face up to this problem if we want to be relevant to the lives of our supporters and people whose support we need.
Labour, as the party of equality, led the way for women while in government: maternity and paternity leave and pay, the first cross-government strategy to tackle violence against women and girls and the introduction of all-women short lists.
Now it must lead the way on changing the culture of politics too if it is to break the glass ceilings – and doors – that face women in politics.
A recent Fabian Society survey found 28% of women in the Labour Party had received sexist abuse online, 98% had seen women in public life receive sexist abuse online and 91% had concerns about taking a more prominent public role as a result of online sexist abuse.
If women make it past the first hurdle of joining a party, they struggle to get involved.
Fewer than five women were elected from open shortlists to stand as Labour candidates in target seats ahead of the 2015 general election.
Last summer the Labour Party held three major internal elections: for leader, deputy leader, and the London mayoral candidate.
Members selected three male candidates.
In local parties, more often than not, women become the secretaries and men become the chairs.
If women do make it to the top they feel unsupported and often do not re-stand for election.
In elections, women candidates who have children face questions about their ability to do the role.
Women candidates who do not have children face questions about their ability to empathise.
Men, apparently, are able with or without children.
Sexism thrives in politics – and it is shutting women out.
Labour led the way for women in government and now must lead the way on the sexist culture in politics.
Labour should champion an honest and open culture, where sexism, harassment and intimidation is called out and dealt with fairly – no matter how powerful the person in question is.
Thorough codes of conduct should be enforced, online and offline.
Training should be given for staff members and elected officials in local, regional and national parties to better prevent abuses before they arise and deal with them fairly when they do.
Labour should have independent complaints reporting, so people can have confidence in the system and not fear political consequences of coming forward.
I joined Labour because it is the party of equality.
I know that if we are to get more women to join, we must practice what we preach not just in government but in our own party.