International Women’s Day: Leader reveals misogynistic hate mail
Councillors reveal hurdles women face in politics
08 March, 2018 — By Helen Chapman
THE leader of Camden Council has told how she has been sent poison pen letters and abused on Twitter, as women at the Town Hall explained the challenges they face in the world of politics.
Until last month, all four political parties represented in the council chamber were led by women, but ahead of today’s (Thursday) debates and celebrations for International Women’s Day, the New Journal asked what hurdles they think are still in place.
Labour Party leader, Councillor Georgia Gould, said: “I think it’s important for women to have support networks. We need to change the dynamic for women at every conversation and support women to progress, and we need more flexible work and equal pay to help overcome the challenges women face.”
She added: “I’ve noticed the barriers more as I’ve become more senior. Since becoming leader the abuse I have received has surprised me. Politicians receive a huge amount of abuse in letters and on Twitter and things. I’m sure men get it too, but some of what I have received seems gendered and it’s not clear as to why.”
The Conservatives have been led by Claire-Louise Leyland for five years, although she is stepping down at May’s council elections. Her colleague Siobhan Baillie said she had not come from a political background but had been asked if she would be interested in standing for the council.
“I think it’s important to have good people in office, whether they are men or women, but we have a situation where men push themselves forward and women don’t,” Cllr Baillie said. “It’s important to ask women if they are going to stand for election, even if they end up not putting themselves forward, to encourage them to stand.”
She added: “Statutory relationship education will start next year, which will have a strong focus on communication and relationship skills. There’s evidence that family role models and education helps encourage children to be able to put ideas across.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea said politics is harder for women with children. “I think it’s harder for women to find the energy to enter politics,” she added. “A woman’s brain can be in 10 different places. You can have as many creches and nurseries as you want but still half your brain is thinking, ‘I didn’t leave the cornflakes out’.”
“You have to be very strong so you don’t pull out when things get stressful. As you get older this gets easier. Women get much tougher as they get older.” Cllr Rea said her own resolve came through a background in theatre.
She said: “You learn about self-confidence, how to improvise and how to understand body language. I had to deal with a lot more rejections in acting than I have with politics.”
Green councillor Sian Berry said at the beginning of her political career she spent 15 years campaigning for transport, which was seen as a “male area”. She added: “I felt badly underestimated in what I might know. I’ve been in situations where I was mistaken as someone’s assistant. “I’m lucky because we have women in the party who can act as mentors. I’ve never got the impression in the party that it wasn’t a women’s place. Having said that, women get insults thrown at us all the time and for some women it’s really extreme which is a sign things are not completely sorted out. There’s a long way to go.”
Cllr Berry said she believes challenges for women could be overcome through voting reform. She said: “Proportional Representation would make an enormous difference so that the same people wouldn’t be able to hold seats for many years and more women could get a chance.”