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Politics and women: how to get involved


Fiona Pashazadeh

Jane Osmond
WVoN co-editor

As a committed voter I regularly stay up  all night to watch the election results coming in, whether at local or national level.

The first thing that struck me about the coverage of the English local council elections last week was the unremittingly male picture presented by the BBC, despite the recent criticism about the lack of women on the BBC’s Today Show.

In response, the BBC said: ‘Women of all ages feature prominently throughout the BBC’s schedules on radio and television. There is of course always more we can do to improve gender balance and it is an issue we take seriously.’


The lack of women in election coverage was also mentioned in the recently updated Hansard report Women at the Top which found that there were no women on the platform during the televised party leaders’ debates during the 2010 general election.

Further, all the interviewing journalists were male, and of the nine Daily Politics debates in the run up to the election, only two of the 29 participants were female.

It also pointed out that the number of women councillors in England in 2010 was around 30.6%, but even this figure is not reliable because ‘Collection of data on the gender of councillors is patchy – there is no formal system monitoring the diversity of either local election candidates or local councillors.’

One woman trying to redress the gender imbalance on Coventry City Council (average 23.5% women) was Fiona Pashazadeh, who stood as a Socialist Alternative candidate in last Thursday’s elections.

I spoke to Fiona about why she decided to stand, particularly in a ward that had historically switched between Tory and Labour (men, of course) meaning she had little chance of winning:

‘Looking at the past few years in this area it has always been men standing, so that is part of the reason.

‘Also, given that the existing Labour Council in Coventry has tended to rubber-stamp government cuts, the local Socialist Party decided that it wanted everyone in the city to have the option to vote for a party against the cuts and thus give them a choice on the ballot paper.’

She found that people (particularly women) were positive about a woman standing for council and although people disagreed with her political stance when she was out campaigning, she did not experience any negativity because of her gender.

Within the Socialist Party itself, there is the national Socialist Women’s Group which meets regularly for ‘Day Schools’ which encourage women to put forward ideas for action by the party in general.

Over the last year, the group has marched in Sheffield again sexism and cuts, gone on pro-choice marches in Worthing and London, put on events for International Women’s Day (which included a protest against the sexism in Nuts Magazine), and as far back as 2009, has been campaigning against Lap Dancing Clubs.

For women who were interested in standing as councillors or MPs, Fiona has this advice:

‘If women want to get involved just go for it – depending on the strand of politics they want to be involved in there will be different ways in.  Get involved with people and issues in your area that affect women, such as women’s services being cut.

‘Also, it is not all about elections, it is about continual campaigning work trying to engage and help local communities to have a voice about the issues that affect them.

‘A recent example is the protest against the closure of a local community swimming pool: we encouraged the campaigning group to put forward a candidate for the local elections. We are not out to power play: it is genuinely about getting people in the community to stand.’

Fiona’s route into politics began as a young woman when she joined the RSPCA to campaign for animal rights, followed by a stint in CND whilst at university.  A politics module she took at the same time opened her eyes to a power structure that privileges profits at all costs.

‘I joined the Socialist Party at University nearly eleven years ago and have been involved and active since then, apart from breaks to have children.  It appealed to me because it is about not just identifying the problems that a lot of people in our society suffer under a capitalist system, but it is also about trying to find solutions.’

As the mother of two young children, I asked Fiona how she coped with the demands of campaigning. She acknowledged that people will have competing priorities, such as managing fulltime work, having caring responsibilities, being disabled.

For this Fiona recommends either joining an existing party, or putting together a reliable team of volunteers who can cover for each other. When standing for election, whether locally or nationally, this team of volunteers will be the ones who knock doors, deliver leaflets and raise campaign funds.

However, according to Tweeddale West councillor Catriona Bhatia, once elected, the demands are easier:

‘Being a councillor is a very flexible job to have for a working mother as a lot of the council meetings are during the day when the kids are at school and for meetings at night a childminder can be used. It is much easier than a 9 to 5 job in that respect.’

Sadly (although not unexpectedly), Fiona was not elected, but then nor was the well-respected Socialist Alternative councillor Dave Nellist, who was outed from his position by a successful Labour campaign in his Coventry ward.

But these defeats are not going to stop Fiona, Dave Nellist or the party from continuing to campaign:

‘For many people the current political options seem to consist of choosing the lesser of two evils, spoiling a ballot paper or staying at home.  We are trying to create a viable alternative, anti-cuts candidates standing as part of the Trade Union Socialist Coalition for people who are fed up with the current system.

‘It might take time, but we are determined to give the working class the chance to get their voices heard, not just locally but nationally.  Given the severity of the cuts which, as we know are having a disproportionate impact on women, we have to act before it is too late.’

You can find more information about standing as a councillor here.

You can find more information about the Socialist Party here.

You can find more information on the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) here.

No women to be seen

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