Labour Women - Conference Report 2016

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We were a group of about 8  Wolves women in Liverpool. The crèche served a good purpose; the venue was  comfortable and spacious. Feedback later from our sisters with disabilities indicated a lack of provision for people to sit and rest in long walkways.

The agenda for the day was adjusted to take account of the result of the Labour Leadership election.  We spotted that the hall in which the result was actually announced, where the Leader made his speech of thanks, was certainly not full.  A bit of flexible last minute adjustment would have invited the new leader into our hall - his acclamation would have been even more resounding.  Just for the record, Jeremy Corbyn polled 61.8%  with 313,209 votes, and Owen Smith polled 38.2% with 193,229. The total eligible to vote was 654,006 and 506,438 votes were cast.  There were 1042 spoiled votes.

The strong message from the re-elected Leader was that this is the time to draw a line and to move on.  Jeremy affirms that he is ready to engage across the PLP.  Now is the time to focus very seriously on removing this awful Tory Government and move away from internal examinations, recriminations and plotting.

Remembering Jo Cox

We watched a video and we listened to Jess Phillips MP (Chair of the PLP Women’s Group) in order to remember the murder of Jo in her constituency by a politically motivated person.  Jo Cox is remembered with affection,  and hugely respected by all who knew her.  We stood in silence to reflect upon the ultimate, hateful brutality upon one of our sisters.

Keynote Address by Angela Rayner MP – Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities

Angela was introduced by Harriet Harman MP and the theme was that of mutual support for one another at all times,  and a reminder that a woman is likely to need much more than one statement of encouragement to take the next step in a political life.  Angela may be one of few women Labour MPs who has progressed to her current position via work in the Trade Union movement.  She spoke of a working class, poor background and the way in which that has informed her motivation as a politician.  (The total of 100 Labour women MP’s are in the main graduates, followed by political employment)

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Throughout the day, there were references to boosting the expectations of all Labour women with the message from the MPs present that we can do anything we decide to do, and our female presence in parliament should reflect the broad brush of class within society. 

The power of social media was referred to throughout the day and Angela observed that misogyny (hatred of women) should be called out wherever it occurs, particularly on social media.  This was re-affirmed at the end of the day by Jeremy Corbyn.  It is not acceptable; as women we need to be mutually supportive to ensure this abuse is stamped upon at all times.

Meeting started late, so lunch running late (why oh why can’t we demonstrate punctuality in our organization of events and our conduct?).  There was some feedback later about the frequent appearance of men – mainly behind cameras (there are female photographers in the world), but Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn were invited in and John McDonnell appeared in the lunch area.  Have to say the latter attracted a good deal of positive attention, intruder or not!  This short break was the moment to seek out a person we did not know and to some extent that was achieved.

Afternoon break-out discussions: Ending Violence against Women (1): Reclaim the Internet(2): Women Against State Pension Inequality(3): Workplace 2020: Creating Workplaces Fit for the Future(4).

Ending Violence against Women Panel: Sarah Champion MP for Rotherham, Shadow Minister for Preventing Abuse and Domestic Violence.  Jess Phillips MP, Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party.  Diana Nammi, Executive Director Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights:  Sarah Green, Co-Director, end Violence against Women Coalition: Kelley Temple, Girl guiding.

The most powerful speaker from this panel was Esther, not named in the programme for obvious reasons.  She talked to us about 30 years of her life trapped in sexual abuse from 3 years old, to domestic abuse and sexual violence as an adult in a relationship.  A report note cannot do justice to the impact of Esther’s disclosures – she tried to help us understand that a woman consistently abused has an inherent belief that this is normality, and that reporting these incidents is not necessary.  Indeed, police intervention is frequently unwelcome until a woman takes a decision for herself to escape the life she is leading.  Esther describes her “book learned” (experts) supports as ill-informed and unhelpful, citing a social worker view that she must be mentally unstable if she continued to stay in an abusive relationship.  We were reminded that a woman in an abusive relationship will describe her abuser as the man she loves, and she will remember better times and hope that those times will return.

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Esther finally attended her GP.  When he heard that she was being routinely raped by her partner, he wanted to ask her why she did not want to have sexual relations with him!  A year later, Esther took the decision to contact a police public protection officer on Christmas Eve (always a very bad time for survivors of domestic abuse).  The police officer spent a lot of time searching for a safe refuge – Esther had no children and was in full-time work, and therefore not considered to be a priority for a refuge bed.  She found IDVA support (Independent Domestic Violence Advisor) and was moved to Liverpool where she had to source her own accommodation. 

There was no support available for Esther, and her attempts to help herself were exacerbated by her lack of official ID (lots of survivors are not permitted to have their own ID by abusive partners).  Esther recalls receiving some sessions of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) but not nearly enough time and effort invested to help her make sense of 30 years of abuse.  She observed that survivors will often seek comfort in the use of drugs and alcohol, yet the community resources to assist people with added complexity such as substance abuse are lessening/non existent after years of austerity.

We stood to applaud Esther for her remarkable courage and her willingness to let us hear her story.

Kelley spoke to us from the Youth Council in Staffordshire, an advocate for Girl Guides.  She spoke of the power of the internet, both positive and negative.  Today’s society exposes our young people to the worldwide web for their sex and relationship knowledge.  Sexist pornography is awful and deeply influential where women and girls are objectified and abused. 

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Kelley said  there must be zero tolerance to sexual harassment in schools and that our education system needs to take responsibility for helping young people learn about the nature of consent and gender equality.

THIS YEAR THERE HAVE BEEN 600 RAPES ON SCHOOL PROPERTY.  EVERY WEEK IN THE UK THERE ARE AN AVERAGE OF TWO WOMEN KILLED BY THEIR PARTNERS

 

Diana Nammi talked about her beginnings in Kurdistan and an experience at a wedding where the bride was threatened with death because someone suspected she might not be a virgin.  Diana escaped and became a Kurdish Freedom Fighter, arriving in the UK in 1996.  She spoke of the need ensure women whose first language is not English, get access to that learning safely.  Diana was assisted by an interpreter in her early days in the UK and, noticing that her supporter had been absent, she made enquiries.  Diana discovered that her interpreter (a British Citizen) had been sent back home to Iraq by her husband because he thought she was flirting with colleagues at work.  She was subsequently murdered. 

When Diana reported this to UK police,  she was told this alleged crime had been committed in a country beyond their jurisdiction.  This is clearly discriminatory as the same treatment would not be afforded to a British white woman murdered abroad. 

Diana spoke to the police about the nature of Honour Killing and the response was that this is a “cultural issue”.  Thus, in 2002, she set up an organization (mainly on personal donations and European funding) to support BME middle-eastern women in the UK.  The organization offers support, counselling and safe refuge.  Female genital mutilation (victims exist in the UK but no prosecutions), may be seen as normal by the female groups at high risk.  A good deal of support in secure settings will be needed in order to begin to address this huge abuse of women.

(Reference:  “Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation” a UK Perspective by Hilary Burrage.  Paperback 978-1-472-41994-1: 25.00.  Flier indicates that 20% discount available by entering code FLR40 at checkout.

“Female Mutilation” by Hilary Burrage published by New Holland at 14.99 available at good bookshops and at www.amazon.co.uk.)

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Jess Phillips MP summarized our concerns at the lack of wraparound services for women survivors of abuse including refuges.  Funding does not allow for sustainable development and skilled staff continuity.  The cessation of legal aid undermines women in this position and adds to their extreme difficulties.  MPs and Councillors should be briefed and questioned about their plans to ensure that they do all in their power to secure greater safety for women in the UK at risk of  all these abuses.

Our Party: Made by Members.  Ann Black, NEC Vice-Chair Women.

 

Ann reported that the NEC agreed to have an annual National Women’s Labour Conference with a clear role to influence policy!  Part of that contribution will clearly need to examine and address gender balance throughout the party.  A survey of women members had been conducted and some feedback was given – we might have anticipated the range of outcomes from such a survey.  Women are generally very busy with caring responsibilities, managing households and employment, before they begin to address how they express their interest in politics.  Labour women need to understand how best to get involved, and as activists, we need to be clear how best to involve and sustain women’s interest. 

Costs will be an issue and there is a need for much more mentoring and training.  Ann repeated the obvious and very new emphasis in 2016 in order to establish very much more involvement of working class women.  It is said that we shall need to repeat ourselves a number of times if we want to encourage more of our sisters to step up and take a more active role.  In summary, Ann Black urges us to address the business of local government gender balancing  (look at how many environment cabinet leads are women for example).  Promote women for metro mayors and police and crime commissioners, and maintain the proportion of women MPs.  All feedback welcome says Ann – annblack50@btinternet.com

 

Emilie Oldknow – Labour Party Senior Manager.

Emilie spoke of how best to support female employees in the Labour Party structures: family friendly policies, flexible working and equal pay.  The gender pay gap nationally is 19% and the Labour Party gap is around 5%, so room for further work.  She sets herself a 9 month plan and urges us all always to support and affirm our sisters in meetings whenever we can.

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Kezia Dugdale MSP, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Kezia spoke of plans to build Labour in Scotland again and regretted just how far behind the Labour Party is in the selection of female party leaders.  She cited the female leads of the SNP, the Scottish conservatives, UKIP, and the Prime Minister.  A female Labour Prime Minister/Labour Party leader is long overdue.

Jeremy Corbyn, newly re-elected Labour Party Leader

It is now 5.00 p.m. and the close of conference is nigh.  Doubtless Jeremy had a demanding day, but to be frank, his speech was somewhat lack-lustre and may well have been written by someone else for him.  He has clear commitment to women’s issues across the board and wanted to emphasise his support for all of the points raised throughout our day.  He denounced misogyny in all its forms. Commitment and passion is better shown when not reading from a script Jeremy.

Open microphone session between 15.35 and 16.50: 

Chaired by Dawn Butler MP with Cat Smith MP on the panel.  There were some 45 contributions from the floor and we understand they will be a matter of record – who will see them next we might wonder?  It is something of a challenge on the one hand to encourage women to take part and on the other to impose a time limit for speaking contributions.

OUR SOLUTIONS TO ENGAGE WOLVERHAMPTON LABOUR WOMEN

1              Join the Labour Women’s Network www.lwn.org.uk/join

2              Work to create a regional women’s Labour structure

3              Raise the issue of inclusive  wrap-around services for women who are survivors of abuse,  at local government and health authority levels

4              Ensure gender balance in all our political work including how positions of responsibility are decided.

5              Support and promote all women shortlists in order to re-dress the gender balance

 

Lynne Moran

Wolverhampton's Labour Womens Co-ordinator.

Comments welcome to: lynnemoran007@gmail.com

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