Why are all-women shortlists essential to increasing female representation in politics?

Siobhan Corria sets out the arguments for having all-women shortlists for some Welsh seats.

The Labour Party is again facing a public battle with a Labour ‘safe seat’ due to an All Women’s Shortlist for the parliamentary selection following Ann Clywd’s decision not to seek re selection.  The constituency labour party in Cynon Valley has decided it does not want an all women’s shortlist imposed, with echoes of Blaneu Gwent ringing in the ears of Labour Party members the length and breadth of Wales. Yet, this week the NEC has supported the shortlists, followed by a statement from a Welsh Labour representative defending the policy, which states, “The current state of affairs is not acceptable; women are vastly under-represented in parliament with Wales having just seven women MPs compared with thirty-three men”

So why are all-women shortlists so important for increasing female representation at Westminster and why are some Labour party members so vehemently opposed to selections being closed to men?

I am a proud supporter of all women shortlists, however, I also appreciate how sensitive it is for constituencies to have all women’s shortlists imposed by HQ. The statistics speak for themselves.  There have only been 13 female Welsh MPs in 96 years.  Unless something radical is done, female representation in politics will not increase.

All-women shortlists are important because clearly, women do not do as well as men in open selections.  Whilst many people who are interested in politics, would support the need to have  more representative politicians, are people able to articulate why this is some important?

The reason is that a diverse mix of politicians will create policy that is more reflective of our communities rather than if councils, the assembly and westminster are made up of white, middle class, middle age men.   The skill in creating reflective policy is to harness a diverse and rich conversion with people who are reflective of the UK, not to limit politics to a group of people who all think and act the same.

So why don’t women do as well as men in open selections?

The answer, which may be painful for some to accept is due to unconscious bias.  Whilst clearly, things have moved on in politics, women are still expected to act and behave in a certain way.  If you are a woman who challenges and seeks justification for decisions, you can be considered as a challenge by those who have been in politics for many years.

I have the political scars to prove unconscious bias. For challenging the status quo and sometimes decisions that seem to be based on personal preference rather than an evidence base or a steer from the electorate, I have a reputation for being ‘feisty’.  A term which is rarely if ever, used to describe men in politics.

So until men and women accept that unconscious bias exists and actively challenge ingrained stereotypes, we will struggle to select women into positions of political influence and all women shortlists are a must if we are to increase female representation in politics.

The reaction of the Cynon Valley constituency party demonstrates the need for people not to shy away from the conversation about challenging stereotypes and the need to do something radical to increase female representation in politics.  We should be regularly having the conversation not only within political structures, but with the people we represent about why women do not do as well as men in open selections and what is the experience of women who are in public life.

If party members are willing to have the conversation about selecting women over men in parliamentary selections, then there has to be a honest conversation about the criteria for constituencies having an all women’s shortlist imposed by HQ.  So, why have some winnable Labour seats not been women’s only shortlists but Cynon Valley is?  If party members are engaged in the decision to impose a women’s only shortlist and the decision is made consistently throughout all selections, we are on our way to developing a sound, well understood and supported system for increasing the number of women in politics.

Siobhan Corria is a Labour Councillor for Llandaff North.

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