Women

It should be about who is the best person for the job, or so runs the argument against all-women shortlists.

The subject of gender parity and how to achieve is sometimes said to be a good argument starter in Labour gatherings, and my experience suggests nothing to the contrary. Often the most vehement in their opposition are those members and supporters who do not intend to stand, but who object to being told that they have to vote for a woman. Opposition is not limited to men either, as I have met many women who object to anything that looks like preferential treatment.

Roughly speaking, half the population of anywhere is female. Representative democracies should at least attempt to look like the populations that elect them. In terms of gender this is a big fail here in the UK.

I have been involved in the grassroots organisation of local Labour parties almost from joining in 1996. I have a variety of roles, and these have enabled me to have first-hand experience of activism and those thus engaged. My experience does tell me that far fewer women engage in politics than men, and if activism rather than membership is looked at then the proportion of females shrinks even further. The argument than women are just not interested superficially looks correct.

I do not entirely agree with Jack Monroe that politics is sexist; politicians (certainly the left of centre ones anyway) do actively seek to engage women. However, the wider cultural world that politics inhabits is sexist. This is changing, but progress is slow.

Men and women are different and equality is not about trying to make them otherwise. Equality is about access and opportunity. It is also to some extent about engagement, role models and trail-blazing.

Gender-biased selection exists to rectify the institutionalised bias that exists. It is not a perfect solution, and it should only be temporary, but I really cannot see how we achieve greater female representation in our elected bodies otherwise. I accept that it smacks of tokenism; I accept that ambitious women appear to have an advantage. Even despite Labour’s desire to push woman forward there are still more men than women involved and elected as far as I can see, which suggests that if we removed AWS and gender parity rules the situation would be skewed even more in favour of men.

In terms of practical politics there is no other way to achieve a fairer democracy. Waiting for societal changes to redress the balance will mean waiting a long time. Men should not worry, though, for at present there is more than what should be their fair share of seats and posts available to them, and if you think they are missing out because of AWS then spare a thought for all those women put off from even putting a toe near the first rung of the political ladder.

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