Shazia Awan-Scully argues a lot has been achieved, but there is much more to do to ensure fair representation in Welsh public life
Being born in Caerphilly and growing up in Cardiff I am fiercely proud to be Welsh and over the years I’ve seen many of my friends settle in Wales from all parts of the World and feel that same sense of pride. My husband is of course included in that group of people! An Englishman who grew up in Luton and chose to learn Welsh whilst living in Aberystwyth.
My family background is Uganda-Asian, my parents came to the UK in early 1970s, having lost everything when thrown out of Idi Amin’s Uganda. The Ugandan Asian community had British passports and my parents ended up in South Wales and built a new life here.
I have always been interested in politics which has very much come from my father, who in Uganda was a well-known racing driver and would spend much of his time debating and talking politics… and at the time with the likes of Idi Amin amongst his social circle. I realised at a young age if you want to make positive changes, you have to be part of the process and that’s one of the things that led me to join a political party.
For some years I was a Conservative. Attracted by David Cameron’s talk of re-making a more open and inclusive Conservative party. Was the first Asian woman to speak at Welsh Conservative conference, and in 2010 was a parliamentary candidate (standing against Andy Burnham, in Leigh). But became alienated by many of the actions of the party once in government and left several years ago. Strongly and publicly opposed the racist campaign run for the London mayor election by Zac Goldsmith against Sadiq Khan in 2016. Earlier this year, I joined the Welsh Labour party.
I’m passionate about equality, and speaking up for groups that are discriminated against, marginalised or lacking a voice. I have been a loud advocate for women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality. These issues sometimes take a particular form in the South Asian community, something that those without my background might struggle to appreciate. I have spoken up about, and will continue to speak about, Islamophobia and extremism, and I will not accept that people of my cultural background and religion, and particularly women from my community, should have fewer rights or less of a voice than others.
Wales has historically had a very poor record in regard to women in public life, but you can see the will from the highest levels of Welsh Government for example to change that. Politics and public life has been very heavily male-dominated. Seems strange to many, given that Wales has voted for parties of the left consistently for more than a century and a half. But Labour dominance in Wales originally constructed around links with trade unions in male-dominated workplaces, like coal mines and steel works. That legacy still lingers even today, to some extent.
When the National Assembly set up, some parties took active steps to ensure that it looked and sounded very different from Westminster. But in recent years the proportion of women AMs has actually fallen. Fewer than one quarter of our MPs are women, and only just over a quarter of our local councillors. Just two of the leaders of those councils are female. Similarly, among Wales’ top 100 businesses only two have female of chief executives. Across much of the upper reaches of the public, private and third sectors, the story is much the same: we need to avoid thinking that the job is completed.
More generally, women have far too small a role in leadership positions in Wales – in business, in the media, or in public bodies. A lot has been achieved, but there is so much more to do.
In my Conservative days, I used to be against these sorts of measures. Felt that I wanted to get on solely on my own merits, and that any achievements I made would be devalued if there had been any discrimination in my favour. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve become more aware over the years of the many, often subtle and unintentional, ways in which women – and particularly those from marginalised communities – can be discriminated against. We need to change stereotypes of what a leader, or what a representative, looks like. And sometimes you need to take positive action to move things forward more quickly.
We can’t expect others to change their behaviour if those in positions of power and privilege don’t do so. Universities, for instance, are supposed to be centres of advanced and enlightened thought. So why do they nearly all have so few women and people of colour in positions of authority? It just isn’t good enough.
A version of this article originally appeared on BBC Cymru Fyw
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