In this guest blog, Jane Whild – Parliament Project Peer Support Circle alumna, Women’s Equality Party (WEP) candidate for Milton Keynes Council, and National WEP Director for 50:50 Parliament’s #AskHerToStand campaign – reflects on #BalanceForBetter as the campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2019.
By Jane Whild
With the theme for International Women’s Day 2019 being #BalanceForBetter, we’re prompted to think about why equal (or balanced) representation matters – not only in general, but in politics in particular. Ultimately, people have many reasons, but for me it boils down to one: representation shapes policy. Policy that is considerate of women’s needs and perspectives is naturally more likely to be implemented by those with similar needs and perspectives, and it is this that drives my belief that balance is indeed for better.
This is also why I’m standing in my local council elections with the Women’s Equality Party this coming May, buttressed by a passion for doing politics differently. All too often, women's pathways to politics means they are mentored by men Councillors, including in the Milton Keynes context with which I’m most familiar. While this is to some extent expected given the gender imbalance that exists within all spheres of politics – and the outright scarcity of women in many contexts – this doesn’t mean we should accept it. Ultimately, this means that the existing interests, biases and structural inequalities are being “mentored in” to the next generation of women council leaders.
So, what is my role to play? How can I contribute to #BalanceForBetter? All told, I believe we need diversity: when I look around, I see that the current systems are not working for everyone. Our Councillors and MPs need to reflect the diversity of the communities they represent in order to understand both their lived experiences and their needs. This representativeness isn’t solely based on gender, but also age, class, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and so on. However, truthfully, many of the women who have made it to council chambers are of my age and ethnicity – clearly, we still have a long way to go.
In a recent article on LinkedIn, Zuzanna Ziomecka expresses concern about older women too perpetuating the status quo. She writes, "At the risk of sounding ageist, I think younger women have a better operating system for seeing and tackling inequality. Older women (I’m including myself in this) fought and gamed the system to make it to where we are. We’re formatted by work and culture in a way that biases us towards maneuvering around the system rather than rebuilding it.” She goes on: “Consider what that implies about older women mentoring down to young ones within organizations.” Of course, this isn’t a universal truth, and to say all young women entering politics have a mindset of rebuilding the existing system would be foolish. But it does seem fair to suggest that the same complacency that older women needed to embrace in order to enter male-dominated spaces years ago is exactly what we need to actively overhaul now if we want to enact real, tangible change.
Sophie Walker called for more diversity and new leadership models when she stepped down as WEP leader. By standing for council in Milton Keynes’s May local elections, I am trailblazing for WEP in a context where they’ve never before had elected representatives. At the same time, I will remain mindful of how I can bring in others to increase the diversity in our Council Chamber to achieve #BalanceForBetter for women of all backgrounds. In this sense, for me, getting elected is only the first step.