Even after our defeat, Labour can proudly boast more women MPs than all other parties combined, yet still doesn't have gender parity in our Parliamentary Party. Despite equality laws, discrimination, direct and indirect, still holds women back. Our experiences, and those tweeted on @EverydaySexism, are stark reminders of daily life. Equality is never “job done” but needs sustaining.
As a Labour grass roots activist and feminist, I supported modernising candidate selections, from one member one vote to all-women shortlists, the single most effective way to achieve more women MPs.
In my mid-twenties, on my own with two children under two, I joined the Workplace Nurseries Campaign, later becoming Chair, and we successfully persuaded the Tory Government to stop taxing workplace nurseries.
In local government, I recruited women construction trainees and created a council’s first workplace nursery and through contract compliance I ensured that suppliers and contractors followed good employment practices and equal opportunities.
When I was elected in 1997, I took that experience into Parliament, founding and chairing the first-ever All Party Childcare group. My childcare survey of everyone working in Parliament paved the way for the establishment of its workplace nursery for all staff.
Would Surestart, family-friendly rights or domestic violence courts have happened in that Labour Government without those 101 Labour women MPs? I don’t think so. The minimum wage and part-time workers’ rights owe much to pressure from women trade unionists, exerting their growing numbers in our affiliated unions, transforming Labour’s employment debate.
Opposition cannot paralyse us. In 2010, the Coalition Government proposed anonymity for rape defendants. As an all-male ministerial team defended this policy, I led the charge with Labour women MPs (gaining some support from women on the Government benches). It secured David Cameron’s first climb down.
The best guarantor of progress for women's rights is having more women elected as councillors, MEPs and MPs and in leadership roles throughout our Party.
I joined Labour, never imagining I would be an MP. My background didn’t mark me out for political office. I’ve never felt ‘entitled’ and still work hard to prove myself. Who I am, coupled with my passion for equality and social mobility, drives me to ensure that Labour looks and sounds like the country we aspire to govern. We need more elected BAME women, disabled women, LGBT women and working class women. As Deputy Leader I'll level the playing field for candidates so that money and connections are no advantage in selections. But community campaigning can play a part in attracting a diversity of women to join us. It’s worked in my Don Valley constituency and as Deputy Leader I’ll champion it nationally.
Too often in politics only certain talents are valued which often play to men’s perceived strengths, experience and networks. I will establish “Labour’s Got Talent” to reach out to our membership and other Labour-supporting organisations to capture and value better a broader range of skills and experiences.
I’m a plain talker and have never held back when I believe women are not being treated fairly.
The Deputy Leadership has no job description. We need someone to lead our campaigns, deputise for the leader and fight our corner on the media, especially on difficult days. But it is also an opportunity to elect someone who connects with a wider group of women for whom politics can seem irrelevant – I can be that Deputy Leader.
This blog post first appeared on www.fawcettsociety.org.uk.