Women’s Empowerment Month in Barking & Dagenham

Politically how are we as women faring?  We have 51 labour councillors and many of them are women. However – are we treated in the same way as male colleagues? I would argue no.

The elected Councillors can put key women in positions of power, but what is the day to day experience like?  Have any of us here been at a venue or council event, and male colleagues reach out to shake our male colleagues hands and then eventually get round to us, or even not at all.

I have been on site visits and this has happened many times, what do I do? I go over and shake the people’s hands and get them to acknowledge my presence.  I am not disputing that our husbands, partners, sons, uncles, cousins and male friends may be amongst our strongest advocates but we are a long way from equality. In some council departments the presence of women is very low.

Much has been achieved but it is still a work in progress.

Having a keen interest in politics, I watch most political TV programmes. How many times when Theresa May is on TV, does the camera shoot to her shoes? Ok they may be nicer than Andrew Marrs shoes, but it distracts from the political message that is sought to get over. How many column inches were given to her leather trousers or a secretary of state’s handbag?

Donald Trump is an interesting Subject. We may all groan, but here is a man who has been elected by the American people, to be the American President. Not all who voted for him were men, or he would not have got elected. We have to ask ourselves as women why would an American Woman vote for Trump?

We also have to ask, why did women hit the streets (rightly so) in the UK and worldwide to campaign against him? But haven’t done so in solidarity for the women of Saudi Arabia, or the young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Or the young girls raped in India? Are we saying that as a Western Leader we hold Donald Trump to a greater accountability? Could it be we are saying western lives matter more than other countries?

Am I a Feminist? Yes I would say I am. But I would argue at this point Feminism has failed many women worldwide. We still hear of court cases where a serious rape has occurred and we are told the female had been drinking and hence a question mark over the innocence of the woman is put forward.

Women still earn much less than men, that is true across the world. In Western countries we will recount our historic victories but then choose not to look to other countries where the rights of women, are not unlike what women in this country suffered one hundred years ago and far worse.  If child is sick, or an elderly relative needs care, the emphasis is placed on women to find solutions, not men.

I have heard women say when a man forgets a Christmas or birthday present for a work colleague at work, “you would think his wife or partner would sort that out”. That’s a very high standard to place on women.

Women  bring a different skill set and perspective to politics, thank goodness! Many times what a woman can say in ten minutes, can be more effective than two hours of debating in a meeting with the same conclusion. I think many of the women here tonight have a lot to give, and I would urge them to think of a political career, and lend their voices to future Women’s Empowerment Month’s at Barking & Dagenham Council.

Councillor Margaret Mullane – Village Ward Councillor and Dagenham and Rainham CLP Secretary

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