Without the involvement of women, ‘a message for every voter’ cannot be achieved. Women account for over 50% of the vote, and if we as a party want to represent women’s voices we need to engage them and give them platforms to speak. International Women’s Day celebrates the political, social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women while identifying the need to accelerate gender parity. In this blog I will be exploring two big ways local parties can get women engaged with the party, reflecting on my experience of IWD (or week!) this year. (You may also be interested in my previous LibDem Expand blog on diversity in the party).
Giving women a platform
One of the most important but simple steps to engaging women is to give them a platform. For example, Elaine Bagshaw organised an International Women’s Day LibDem Pint, with three guest speakers (including me, see the video here). We talked about how women’s voices do matter – no matter their role in the party. Standing in a local election, or encouraging other women to do so is something really valuable, both as a way of increasing the number of women at the table, and to ensure that we as a party are able to contest all elections and talk to all voters.
I am Diversity Officer for my local party, Watford, and spoke about Maya Angelou (poet and human rights activist), and the most difficult moments in my role as Diversity Officer. For me that was not knowing how my ideas on diversity would be accepted – for example over the Electing Diverse MPs motion. Regardless, it’s important to keep moving the boat forward! We were also asked about how we can encourage more women to become active, which this blog is a brief attempt to answer. Women need to be encouraged to stand for election, to be invited to speak, and to be proactive – as Elaine was with organising this special LibDem Pint.
Diversity events make a difference
My previous blog featured a recent Diversity Dinner run by the Watford Liberal Democrats as an example of what the party can do to engage and campaign with diverse communities. Special diversity events really do work – both as a way of engaging with new groups of voters, and for empowerment and encouragement.
Our first International Women’s Day event in Watford included three inspiring women as guest speakers: Belinda Brooks-Gordon (Brexit spokesperson for the East of England), Aga Dychton (Watford’s first Polish Councillor), and Quddsia Ilyas (Watford Ahmadiyya Muslim Association). (See some video from the event here) The reason for organising this event was to showcase female role models in our party and in Watford (Dorothy Thornhill!), and to encourage new members to become involved. Hearing speakers from completely different backgrounds is just one thing we can do to show that the party does have something to say to all members and all voters, no matter what the issue may be!
The theme for International Women’s Day was #BeBoldForChange, and our events reaffirmed to me that there are women in our party and community who are already boldly pushing for change. Building that engagement early on is important – I got engaged in politics through a work experience programme! I think it’s really important to engage young women in politics, and let them use their voices to engage, influence, and make a difference both at a local and national level.
My thanks go to Belinda, Aga and Quddsia for taking the time to visit Watford and inspiring us all with their knowledge and ideas. Ultimately, what they demonstrated through their inspiring stories is that by giving women a voice, we can create tomorrow’s leaders and reach every voter in every group.
Dipa Vaya is Diversity Officer for the Watford Liberal Democrats and an ambassador for 50:50 Parliament. She is a politics graduate and passionate about improving diversity within the party. Find her on Twitter @DipaJVaya