“If I had to pick one pivotal moment for women in the last 100 years, I would pick right now. 2018 has the potential to be a landmark moment for women” Helen Pankhurst –Let’s prove her right.
I’m standing to represent the residents of Ladywell on Lewisham Council for the Women’s Equality Party. I’ve been campaigning since the end of February, mostly by working with a team of volunteers every weekend and many evenings as well, knocking on the doors, meeting people. We’ve knocked on every voter’s door in Ladywell because we want to reach everyone not just people that we think will vote for us. Since February, I’ve been asked a lot of questions and I’ve been told a lot about the area – some of which was familiar to me as a resident and community volunteer and some that was new to me.
There have been some themes in the questions people have been asking and we haven’t had the opportunity to talk about them on bigger platforms like hustings – although I’m very grateful to the Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum for recognizing the value of hearing from smaller and new parties such as ours. (It was in itself revealing that on the platform that afternoon with Mayoral and Council Candidates, I was the only woman – at an event which seemed to have been conceived, curated and organized predominantly by women.)
Given the lack of platforms, I’ve made myself one here… because that’s what we do right?
Here are some my campaigns FAQs.
Where do you stand on Brexit?
I personally am a passionate and vocal Remainer. I studied European languages at University and I’ve lived and worked in mainland Europe. My husband, born here, is the son of immigrants (one EU and one Commonwealth). Europe helped to shape me just as Europeans shape the UK. I will do what I can to see us stay in the EU. As a party WEP are committed to ensuring that protections for women, children and minorities and the environment are not only protected but bettered by this moment of change.
You’re asking for 1 of our 3 votes – who else do you vote for?
The only other party I’ve ever joined is the Greens and I vote Green when I can’t vote WE. I am a progressive by nature and I believe in PR.
What will you do for me as a Women’s Equality Party Councillor that a female Labour Councillor wouldn’t do?
One of my reasons for standing for the Women’s Equality Party is that the bigger parties have been unable or unwilling to bring the United Nation’s 5thgoal for sustainability – Gender Equality – to the foreground in this country.
Secondly WEP is non-partisan which means we want to work collaboratively across parties to put the needs of our voters first. I am not bound by a party whip so I will be able to represent the interest of women and girls first. I am interested in taking party politics out of the local politics so that we can think about what’s needed over the longer term and with a vision for an inclusive and social investment economy. We call it the social economy – which isn’t fluffy – it’s about biting the bullet and recognizing the injustice of our economic system, and rebalancing it through a gendered lens, recognizing, valuing and rewarding everyone’s contribution. In most economic thinking and that adopted by major parties, women are seen as an expense not an investment, our contribution is not valued or accounted for.
We will change that.
There are some very brilliant and effective women in the Labour party. That is indisputable – which makes it all the more galling and difficult to understand why they are still having to work so hard to get our basic human rights into the centre of policy-making.
Women are still left to be the afterthought or as we have seen in the austerity era, even here in Lewisham, the first area to be cut. Women have borne the vast proportion of cuts to their jobs, pensions and services. This isn’t the women in Labour’s fault but they haven’t been able to influence their party to place an emphasis on women’s equality. My party exists to do that. I will bring a gendered lens to my Councillor work.
What will you do for men in Lewisham?
Women’s Equality is better for everyone. So as I apply a gendered lens to policies, the benefit will be felt by other under-represented, marginalized and disadvantaged groups.
For example, a reduction in domestic violence doesn’t just free women from being damaged, it breaks a cycle for men and boys. Equal parenting and caring rights, bring entitlements for men with a 40 hour child care policy that allows partners of either sex and same sex couples the opportunity to be part of family life and work life. Combatting empty homes and investing in social care will benefit everyone. The difference is we have a policy and a clear commitment to doing it. Because that’s why we exist
Women’s Equality is good for a rebalanced economy, the environment and for our physical and mental health.
It’s also important to note that I represent all the residents not just women and girls. I’ll be following up residents’ concerns in the usual pattern of surgeries and enquiries. But I will be looking to hold them at times and spaces that more people can access.
You’re not standing in the Mayoral election?
As a small party we felt that we should concentrate our resources on contesting an election where it’s possible for us to get a seat on the Council. And then from within the Council we hold the Mayor to account on Women’s Equality. We note with disappointment that none of the other parties takes diversity seriously enough to stand anyone who isn’t male and white. The only non-white candidate this time, Duwayne Brooks, is an independent candidate. And yes we do have concerns about the current structure of the Mayor and Cabinet in relation to the other Councillors.
Isn’t it just a party for white middle-class women?
No it isn’t. I would not have joined a party for middle-class white women and I couldn’t be less interested in voting for someone just because she’s a woman. Over the country we have 30+ candidates, and our diversity and our experience is extraordinarily rich. I’d be surprised if other parties can match the surprising amount of diversity. The Women’s Equality party offers a space for women from all backgrounds to share their skills and experience and politics is the better for it already. All our policies see women in all their intersecting identities and mirror the complexity of their lives. That is why we encourage other parties to steal them and that is why other parties increasingly work with us because of our access to women from across communities.
How many Labour Councillors are there actually in Lewisham?
Currently only one seat on Lewisham Council is not Labour. There is just one Green Councillor. We’d like to see greater diversity of opinion and experience reflected in the Council alongside us. This is because it is proven in studies of any form of governing body that when there is such an overwhelming dominance from one force – entitlement, complacency, lack of scrutiny and consultation follow. There are some very progressive policies in our council’s work but there have also been some very damaging and unfair decisions made without inclusion or transparency to do with planning and education provision which will affect us all in the area.
WE believe there is room for more voices on the Council and it is time for us to do politics differently
What are you most concerned about in terms of Women’s Equality?
A few weeks ago everyone was talking about the gender pay gap but I’m more worried about the pensions gap as it affects a generation of women now, facing high rents and a reduced income. We have to invest in social care both professional and family-based at the local and the national level. If we do this, there are so many women and households that can be lifted out of poverty. There are more potential jobs and more sustainable jobs in the social economy than there are in the construction sector. This is a live issue for us in Lewisham.
The empty homes we see in Lewisham and the new ones being built that will stand empty as investment properties making our town centre an isolated and forbidding space make me angry – in the context of thousands of Lewisham families in so-called “temporary” accommodation, and many women attempting to head households in unsafe and unsuitable spaces. There are children in these households commuting over 90 minutes to school each day.
And I think it is astounding that Lewisham has some of the highest domestic violence rates in the capital. Domestic violence is found across society and it is both a symptom and cause of inequality. I cannot understand that we would grant planning to more unaffordable developments whilst Lewisham women are being turned away from refuges or children from mental health services. The demand for support services is going up whilst the budget recedes.
Over the years as a community arts practitioner, I’ve got very used to building trust, hearing people’s stories and opinions, including them in what’s happening, encouraging them to shape and inform a project and coming away with a sense of ownership. It’s this sense of ownership and inclusion that I have found to be lacking in politics at all levels, one of the reasons why until the founding of WEP, I had never been involved in formal politics. I’m also used to tricky negotiations and standing my ground.
So as this election campaign is coming to its end, with polling day on Thursday, my mind is already turning to the work that will follow irrespective of whether I’m elected. Two pieces of action I’ve already started on:
1) A cross-community, cross-generational and multi -agency approach to restoring trust, co-operation and a sense of community ownership and responsibility in Lewisham Town Centre. I’ve been working on building a networked and ground-up response to the incidents before Easter which resulted in young people being temporarily banned from the Shopping Centre.
2) Working with the Lewisham Police on breaking taboos about reporting and speaking about the shockingly high domestic violence rates in Lewisham.
And now that I’ve shared that with you – I’ll have to make it happen.
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically change the world. And you have to do it all the time” Angela Davis.
It’s on my leaflet. It’s what I believe.
On Thursday we go to the ballot and/or our postal votes will be counted. Voting for Women’s Equality is a radical act. I hope you’ll do it. It sends a powerful message. Lewisham Council needs new ideas and I can be that fresh non-partisan voice.