|During Lockdown the 50:50 Parliament campaign has been going from strength to strength. We are seeing record numbers of women wanting to stand for election.|
|By Sarah Tomlin. 50:50 Equal Power co-ordinator|
|The Covid crisis has made us all keyboard warriors. We have no choice. Confined to our couches or our bedrooms we seek out connections with others via the Internet. |
For some, this is working from home, socialising with family and friends, or homeschooling our children. For others it is about learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby. For others still, it is about finally taking the plunge into politics.
Here at 50:50 Parliament we have run a campaign since 2013 to inspire more women to become politicians. To address the balance that still sees men outnumber women 2:1 in Westminster.
Our main focus is the Sign Up To Stand campaign, whereby women can declare their intention to stand on our website. From the start of lockdown we have seen an upswing in the number of women joining our campaign. Since the end of March some 200 women have chosen to Sign Up To Stand, joining an existing movement of 1200 like minded activists.
What has prompted this new engagement with democracy? We can only hypothesize at the origins. Some may have been frustrated at the slow response of the UK government to the Covid pandemic, and the many mistakes made by the (mostly) men in positions of power. Perhaps they were encouraged by the seeming success of female leaders around the world responding more quickly and empathetically to the crises in their own countries?
Times of crisis can lead to renewal. The unrest created by the death of George Floyd and the desperate calls for change from the Black Lives Matter movement can no longer be ignored. At 50:50 Parliament we want ALL women’s voices to be heard at Westminster, whatever their backgrounds. We are actively encouraging women in all their diversity to join our campaign.
Whatever the origins, we live in unprecedented times and they call for a new engagement with democracy, new ways of doing politics, new ideas and new people pushing for change.
As face-to-face campaigning ground to a halt at the start of the pandemic so our campaigning moved online. Like many campaigns we re-organized around Zoom, launching events and workshops that reached women from ALL across the country and at ALL times of the day or week. So whether the women were carers, or homeschoolers, furloughed or working from home they could join in online and use their voice.
Every time we have hosted a 50:50 networking Zoom call the event has rapidly sold out online. The women logging in from the comfort of their homes are from all across our devolved nations – so we have women from Berwick upon Tweed, Aberystwyth, Lancashire, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes and Cornwall – all together on the same call. It is exhilarating. And every event is followed by a rash of new signups.
This is where the hard work starts. Converting those who sign up into bona fide candidates for the next local or general election. This is where our New Girls Network and buddy support system kicks in. By matching women with a peer from their political party – women supporting women – they start on a journey that can lead to Westminster.
We know this works. In the last general election, 50 women who were inspired by our campaign were selected as candidates (many for the very first time) and 9 of those women are now MPs in Westminster.
How many of the 200 women who signed up in the past 3 months will be sitting on the green benches in the next 5 years? It’s anyone’s guess. But we know that by working with like minded organisations – this year we are part of the #Equal Power campaign alongside the Fawcett Society, Centenary Action Group, Citizens UK, Glitch, Muslim Women’s Nework and the Parliament Project – we can intensify our impact and amplify our message. Women are ready for change.
As the lockdown eases, we hope the new ways of using communications technology will last. Every week, our 50:50 team is organising around 6 or 7 smaller regular Bitesize Zoom meetings. These are hosted by our #AskHerToStand directors who have links with different political parties and they give women advice and support about how each particular party’s selection procedures work.
We have also set up Telephone Teams who are cascading communications via WhatsApp informing all prospective candidates of our events and support. The technology is providing us with great new ways of communicating, to inspire and support women in standing for elected office.
The Suffragettes used postcards – we use WhatsApp and Zoom!
It took a world war for some women to win the right to vote yet one hundred years later women are still fighting for political equality. As in 1918, maybe political turmoil will lead to radical change. Perhaps Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement will be a catalyst for citizens and politicians to reflect on the nature of our democracy. For many, now is the time to consider the fabric of our democratic systems and ensure that they are inclusive, accessible and truly representative.
The history of the suffragettes shows that upheaval can lead to renewal. If you despair of how the world has responded to the challenge of coronavirus and you want to do more than watch from the sidelines, then you too might be ready to change politics – forever.