So that was amazing!
Sometimes it really is about the small gains and impacts, and when a Landau Forte teacher accompanying her A'Level students, came up to say that one of her students has just said she wants to enter politics....you know it was 2 hours very well spent indeed.
So we started off talking about the Project and the implications of doing this research in Derbyshire against a backdrop of the upcoming Women's Equality Party inaugural Conference, the murder of MP Jo Cox and the somewhat hostile arena of the current political debate in the USA Presidential Race.
We inevitably weighed up the pros and cons of women entering politics juxtaposed against the trajectory which led us to this point to create a the picture which does not always paint politics as an enticing career option for women.
The talk delivered traced the journey from votes fought for and hard won to a world which is seemingly 'being run by women' - from Christine Le Garde to Angela Merkel, Teresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and looking beyond the West for example at President Sirleaf of Liberia and President Bechelet of Chile, to name but a few. We also considered the record numbers of women MPs in Parliament a 7% rise in 5 years and an even bigger increase in the number of ethnic minority women MPs pinnacled by Diane Abbott making History as the first Black Shadow Home Secretary in the UK...we asked the question, "So where is the problem?"
Challenges such as insidious sexism, women having to 'slot' into a political infrastructure built and run 'by men for men', racism and implicit bias which has led serving MPs to 'mistake' Black Female MPs for 'the cleaner' (not once, but three times have Black female MPS been mistaken for the cleaner!). Now don't get me wrong, cleaners perform a valuable and vastly important role in our society and just imagine what our society would be like without cleaners! That said, it seems to me that something crucial is going on, whereby Black women, and I daresay, other women of colour, are consistently perceived as being 'other' than political leadership material.
Indeed, political leadership has long been defined in relation to men and remains a challenge for all women. But the implicit bias of not just gender but race alongside what can be construed as a hostile political environment (and here we refer you back to the US presidential race and more locally the "Calm Down Dear" comments of David Cameron to Angela Eagle, the Comments of Austin Mitchell to Louise Mensch about "Being a good wife..." threats of rape to women MPs and threats to their children which have become commonplace responses to female MPs via social media engagement) can all serve to limit women in the political arena. The aforementioned occurring alongside persistent comments about women's appearance and looks as opposed to their leadership abilities or policies etc, and the horrific murder of Jo Cox, continues to impact women's representation and participation in British Politics. For ethnic minority women the issue is even more magnified, especially where those women are perceived to be anything but potential or actual leaders!
The focus of the talk was on Ethnic Minority Women but it would be remiss not to mention the links drawn between women who have disabilities, working class and LGBTQI women. It is also important to recognise these women from other discriminated against groups, as potential allies, who have common ground in relation to intersectional 'oppression', as well as their womanhood.
The feedback from the talk was amazing and we will be following up several contacts made. On a slightly personal note, I was asked why I had not stood for political office and to that my answer remains simple. I feel that my role (and I know that many other women working in their communities share this view) is one of community educator and social justice activist...as such, then, I am involved, albeit informally, in politics. It is also important to emphasise the need for women to position themselves, to be involved at different levels of the political system and to build their skill set according to that positioning
In further reflection, I cannot help but wonder what Derbyshire Suffragettes like Hannah Mitchell and Alice Wheeldon and the women who carried on the fight throughout the 1960s and 1970s, among others, would make of where we are now... They fought so hard and so long to realise the vote for all women, the right of women to stand for political office and continue to fight for equality, "Is this the political arena they imagined?" Indeed, it seems that we have taken some regressive steps but as we begin this journey delving into the history and stories of women's fight for equality we cannot help but be invigorated by what we have already learned about the determination, strength and contribution of those women's social and political activism to Derbyshire Heritage..
Finally, to those of us who are either already involved or thinking about getting involved in local/parliamentary or activist politics, I say remember to look back at our Derbyshire HERstory (and beyond), to appreciate the legacy of the women who paved the way. Remain steadfast, hopeful and proud as we are truly "standing on the shoulders of GIANTS"....
A Clip From Question Time "Why So Few Women in Parliament? - BBCQT - 06/02/2014 Duration: Approximately 11 minutes