Monday, July 24, 2006

National Labour Women's Forum

The first meeting of the new National Labour Women's Forum took place on Saturday in Derby.

There must have been about a hundred women there, although I did not count them.

We were addressed by some top women politicians, Margaret Beckett our first female Foreign Secretary (and local Derby MP) updated us on the situation in the middle-East and talked too about global warming. There was a full and frank discussion on the Lebanon and all views were openly given.

I wont go into a lot of detail but Margaret did explain how Hezbolah (forgive my spelling, I don't think I have ever written it down before) were very aggressive in their unprompted interference in the Israel/Palestine troubles. She talked about a comparison with Northern Ireland and how there are always dissident groups who want to destabilise peace-talks and plans for peace. She did not defend the Israel government and explained what moves the UK was taking to help the situation, talking about the number of diplomatic missions that we were facilitating as a country, for all sides. Safely taking people in for talks on all sides and safely bringing them out again.

I cannot pretend to be an expert in foreign policy, I am all on just dealing with the local wars in my own ward, we have murderers, dealers, gangs, prostitutes and all sorts, enough to keep several peace-keepers in full-time employment, but I think most of us were reassured that as both a woman and an ethical politician she is neither blind to the pressure points nor blinkered in her views. It was one of those sessions that you wish could be shared with the entire population during a TV blackout, so that they would all have to listen.

My old boss Meg Munn MP, Deputy Minister for Women and Harriet Harman QC MP both gave useful contributions on the ongoing work to sort out things like equal pay and improved child-care and financial support for families. Several good points were made from the floor about neighbourhood childcare centres for instance, and threats over funding and the importance of recognising women's particular difficulties in those areas where they are in the minority at work, like train drivers for instance. The ASLEF representative certainly opened a few eyes!

Hazel Blears, the Chair of the Labour Party made some good general points about reaching out to communities and to women in particular in our need to become a bigger party with tentacles reaching out into every neighbourhood.

We were joined by women Councillors, MPs, MEPs, Ministers, NEC members, Union representatives, Consituency representatives, black and ethnic minorities, young women, you name it, we were all there, it was quite powerful, despite the smallish numbers.

I am sure I am forgetting both women and contributions, but I know we were all impressed with the work that our National Women's Officer, Sue, has been putting in. She has created a new women's website on the national Labour Party website, which is terrific, and she was joined by Alicia, Melanie and several women Organisers who took part in all the workshops.

The workshop I chaired was about women campaigning with and for women and we came up with both interesting and challenging organisation questions as well as solutions.

The thing that struck me the most I think during the workshops, was the general level of ignorance amongst the women about what is and what is not "allowed" within the rulebook for our organising. It is clear to me that men are still scaring women with the rule book, when in actual fact the rule book allows for women's networks and support groups outside of formal structures. One woman asked whether she had to invite all 200 women in her Constituency Labour Party to every event a women's network might hold, even if they weren't a bit interested. I told her that there was nothing in the party rule book to preclude any of us from inviting our friends to our house for coffee and cake if we wanted to, members or not, and I stand by that.

Another woman expressed surprise that she could, if she wanted to, put herself forward as a Labour Party candidate for Parliament, and that the only thing stopping her from being the next candidate was her ability to attract local support.

I do hope we can get this message out there, you can be a parliamentary candidate providing you have the necessary membership, which is either one year or two, I cant remember which. Other than that, there is nothing stopping you. You dont have to be on a list (although if you are the chosen one and not on a list, then you will have to be assessed by the NEC, but as a rule we dont chuck people out), what you need is local support, errr, that is it.

The same woman then said she did not feel confident as a public speaker so daren't be a candidate for Parliament (or the council).

I hear this all the time, we can arrange masses of training, but in actual fact most politicians dont do an awful lot of public speeches so it should not be a barrier for a bright interested woman, and neither is your age.

I am desperate for women to start thinking about why they should stand instead of why they couldn't possibly! Men don't have those doubts, they really don't.

Anyway, we had a great day, spoilt only by our having to leave in a storm.

I am happy to take forward any questions from those who weren't there

1 comment:

Andrea said...

"I am desperate for women to start thinking about why they should stand instead of why they couldn't possibly! Men don't have those doubts, they really don't"

Do you think the low number of female Lab MPs (before the introduction of all women shortlists) was also down to the fact that few women put their name forward during selection process?