How Labour Party women’s forums can encourage the next generation of female activists

The 2017 general election sees the highest number of female candidates contesting parliamentary seats. This is an important achievement.

While Labour is committed to having at least 45 per cent of candidates standing local and national elections to be women by 2030, women remain under-represented in politics at all levels.

At a national level, Labour is increasing training and support for women through initiatives like the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme and by extending the use of all-women shortlists. At a local level, constituency Labour parties are working hard to engage female members.

My CLP’s local women’s forum has put on a range of well attended and interesting events. They have also organised special all-women campaigning sessions, where people who have never been canvassing before can buddy-up with more experienced members. While some members of CLP were initially skeptical about the idea, the sessions have been a phenomenal success with large numbers of women of all ages and backgrounds taking part.

More than 30 women attended the local women’s canvassing session at the weekend. Women knocked on doors with the local female MP and then went to the pub. There was sunshine, wine and pizza. It was a lot of fun. Someone brought a poodle.

We shared photos of the event on Twitter. Inevitably internet trolls complained that a women only political event was “sexist” – but presumably these are the kind of people who ask why there isn’t an international men’s day. Someone told us we should have spent our Sunday in the kitchen cooking roast dinners but I assumed they were joking. It can be hard to tell the difference between satire and reality on social media these days.

We also attracted some unwanted attention from one man who followed several women up the street we were canvassing, asking “hey girls, why are you wasting time with Labour when you could be going to lunch with me?” He told another young woman that she didn’t really understand politics. When she asked why, he replied: “if I said it was because you were a woman you’d be angry with me”. He was an idiot. We laughed about it in the pub after.

There is a serious point to these sessions. The local Labour women’s forum noticed that some women who were considering standing to be councillors lacked the required campaigning experience. The women’s sessions were designed to build campaigning experience and encourage people to come out campaigning for the first time.

Around third of this weekend’s attendees were completely new to canvassing. People who had been members for a few months were door knocking alongside people who had been involved for decades. Members taking part had political views spanning the full spectrum of the Labour family. For those new to it, people discovered the activists’ secret, that door knocking is actually really fun.

There is a lot at stake in this election. We need as many people as possible out campaigning to hold and win key seats. The Tories might have wealthy backers, but Labour’s strength is our network of thousands of activists and councillors and our amazing ground campaign. General elections also play an important role in getting people active within with their local party.

If we want more women, as well as more BAME, LBGT, working class and disabled candidates, to put themselves forward for selection, then we need to engage them and get them more involved in politics at a local and national level. There are lots of ways of doing this – but you get bonus points from me if you combine politics with pizza and poodles.

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