Labour needs a leader that Leads for Women

Let’s make sure our next leader leads for women. We’ll be asking all the leadership contenders what they think of our proposals; see

Our guest writer is Cllr Rachael Saunders (@RachaelSaunders), a signatory of the Lead4Women letter

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 and do sign up in support if you too want to see a leader that Leads for Women.

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19 Responses to “Labour needs a leader that Leads for Women”

  1. Mr. Sensible

    I support the idea of getting more women involved in politics. It is good to see Diane Abbot on the balot paper.

    I actually think Ms Harman should have stood for the leadership herself; I think she did well on PMQs, but I see where she’s coming from about being a caretaker whilst a new leader is chosen. And as she will I believe remain deputy leader of the Labour Party I think we’ll still here a lot from her.

    But, whilst I support more female involvement in politics, and I think it is very good that Labour have so many women MPs, I am not sure I support measures such as all-women shortlists and making sure that 50% of the cabinet are women. I fear that those sort of measures could give the movement a bad name, and they could b seen as patronizing to women.

    To me, women should be in senior posissions because of their abilities, not just because they are women.

  2. Rachael Saunders

    RT @KatieCurtis: RT @leftfootfwd: Labour needs a leader that Leads for Women #lead4women < email [email protected]

  3. Rachael Saunders

    Hi Mr Sensible, I’m sure we’d all rather live in a world where positive action and quotas aren’t necessary, but sadly the Labour Party spent years trying all sorts of different methods to achieve gender balance in representation, and all women shortlists and quotas are the only thing that works. It’s not patronising, it’s the only way we have to redress the balance of structural inequality.

  4. Kate Groucutt

    RT @LabourWomensNet: RT @RachaelSaunders My #lead4women article on @leftfootfwd

  5. KatieCurtis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour needs a leader that Leads for Women #lead4women < email [email protected] to sign!

  6. Chris Leeds

    RT @LabourWomensNet: RT @RachaelSaunders My #lead4women article on @leftfootfwd

  7. CSlabnel

    RT @LabourWomensNet: RT @RachaelSaunders My #lead4women article on @leftfootfwd

  8. LabourWomensNetwork

    RT @RachaelSaunders My #lead4women article on @leftfootfwd

  9. mike

    Compass Conference
    Just wages: the case for tackling inequality session was brilliant

  10. Mr. Sensible

    You might have a point, Rachael.

    I’m in 2 minds on this one.

    I think having Ms Abbot in the contest will bring a new dimention to it.

  11. Jacquie Martin

    Mr Sensible

    Sorry to beat you up here – we agree on many things but I need to say this:

    What I find patronising is the continual recanting of the very-reasonable-sounding argument that all candidates should be selected on merit. This is a complicated long-standing problem and can’t be dismissed in such simple terms.

    Treating disadvantaged groups as equal ignores existing inequality, which makes it a self-perpetuating situation. Opportunity will have been lost because of previous disadvantages or exclusion.

    I recently heard Andrew Neil condemn the merit only argument as without positive discrimination [in politics], nothing ever changes. Not someone I had ever considered a natural champion of women’s rights – he soared in my estimation.

    Positive discrimination makes up for lost opportunity based on discriminatory practices. The US and Canada enshrined it in legislation years back, which is why you see more women in influential positions there than here. It was absolutely essential in South Africa for true black equality. It simply accelerates achieving the goal.

    It’s particularly important for older women in their 40s and 50s who have such a lot of life experience and practical knowledge, but don’t have great CVs because of segregated employment or family roles. I’ve recently signed up for a programme (heavily oversubscribed) aimed at increasing the numbers of women in public life by improving their skills and confidence.

    Obviously with positive discrimination there will be accusations of unfairness and there will be some well-qualfified people who are passed over, but it will unlock potential and encourage diversity which is crucial for the Labour party if it wants to come back stronger with new ideas and broader appeal.

    It is, however, something about which the leadership needs to send out positive messages and not allow it to be seen as a sop. Numerical targets without promoting a cultural change won’t work.

    Eventually, when women are commonplace in senior and high profile roles in politics and business, their presence won’t provoke comment (I hope).

    I’m only sorry I couldn’t sign the letter as I left the Labour party when it stopped representing the working class. Another problem it should be addressing.

  12. Jacquie Martin

    Mr Sensible

    You posted your last comment when I was drafting mine so I didn’t see it. As I suspected you had an open mind. Maybe when you consider the issues, you’ll be persuaded. It’s just the meritocracy argument is always trotted out without any regard for the existing problems.

    Diane is a very able candidate but as is always the case with women, there are so many comments on blogs referring to looks and tokenism etc. Harriet faces the same prejudices and is regularly labelled as a man hater. If we’d actually made some serious progress over the last 40 years of supposed equality, we wouldn’t have to run a gauntlet on women’s issues – they’d be mainstream.

    Equal representation in politics with the effect this has on formulating public policy, will mean women ultimately become accepted into the psyche as equals. Currently, we’re nowhere close.

  13. ikeaddy

    I think we are in danger of missing the point here. Diane’s candidacy is a fantastic result for progressive politics – but the fact that she is a black woman is an added bonus in my view. Like Mr Sensible and the other contributors, I support measures such all-women shortlists, but let’s not kid ourselves that these measures will create a more progressive Party. To ensure that happens, I think we need a more fundamental democratisation of Labour.

  14. Mr. Sensible

    Always happens, Jacquie!

    I am going to sit on the fence on this, but I see the point that both you and Rachael are making.

  15. Jenny Duncan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour needs a leader that Leads for Women

  16. Helen

    RT @JennyDuncan: RT @leftfootfwd: Labour needs a leader that Leads for Women

  17. Lucas Parker

    there are lots of women issues that are mostly related to relationships and family*.~

  18. Labour needs a leader to lead for women «

    […] 13, 2010 by lead4women 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 […]

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