Political Women have More in Common

The #MoreInCommon movement, its hashtag, and the phrase itself have come to prominence in the months following the murder of Jo Cox MP. In October, women came together to hear from a range of speakers on the theme of political women have more in common.

Each speaker told a story, or spoke about their work, and then gave the audience a specific, defined call to action. This short, sharp format was very effective, and reminded me that we can discuss these issues all we like, but it’s actions that matter.

You can watch the film of the event here.

The ethos is excellent – that there really is much more in common than that which divides us. This is what Jo Cox said in her maiden speech in the Commons last year.

The event’s speakers include women from the three main UK parties – Labour, The Lib Dems and the Conservatives – and all three have remarkably similar aims. They want to see more women in public life. It seems obvious to us as women that discourse is improved, and leadership more effective, when women are at the table. (Just as it is when those facing other discrimination, such as LGBT, BAME and disabled people are at the table.) The Labour Party’s Labour Women’s Network provides training, but also is acutely aware of the need for structural change in the environment into which women will be stepping.

I have long been an advocate of the need for structural change. Of course we should provide training for women wanting to enter public life, just as we should for men. There are skills that are very useful, and can be taught and practiced. Public speaking, for example, along with media skills and debating. This, however, is nothing without the necessary change in our public-life environments.

Parliament, for example, is hardly a women-friendly place. Not just the sitting hours but the attitudes and traditions of style, which have been created by and controlled by men over hundreds of years. Women are also disadvantaged by the structures of wider society. Stonewall Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, in her speech, reminded the audience that it’s ok to be clever, articulate and express your views. We are so used to being shouted down, interrupted, or ignored that it can take a lot to remember this.

So what can be done? Several of the speakers addressed this in their calls to action: when you see women standing up, don’t allow anyone to shout them down; give up your power to someone not yet at the table; amplify women’s voices; become a mentor. All of these actions involve other people. The key to our fight for equality, which was also highlighted by several of the speakers, is that we can achieve the most change when we work together. It’s not enough to break the glass ceiling, or get a seat at the decision-making table, you must make sure others are coming with you.

The keynote speech was given by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She spoke about Jo Cox’s activism and transition to becoming a Parliamentarian. She also unashamedly raised the very real issue that, following Jo’s death, there is a real sense of fear experienced particularly by women. There’s an increased fear for political women putting themselves out there, handing out leaflets in a public place, or knocking doors. This was also reflected by Yvette Cooper, who spoke about the Reclaim the Internet project. These issues also come back to structural change in society. It’s not acceptable to murder someone in the street, of course it isn’t. But it’s also not acceptable to shout abuse, or death and rape threats. Why, then, do we accept it online, and on social media, where some of the worst hate-speech can be found?

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, pointed out that in the week or so following Jo Cox’s death, MPs took onboard her message that working together, rather than being partisan and combative, is the best way to achieve real change for people. It’s always a difficult idea for politicians – of course we need to push for our solutions over those proposed by our opponents, but when there actually is agreement it’s better for the people we want to serve that we work together to achieve things. Of course we will always be faced with opposition from those who propose different solutions to the ones we believe in, but this reminded me that it’s important to come back to our real purpose: serving our communities and making the changes that we need to see in the world.

My final takeaway was about power. In Julia Gillard’s keynote speech she talked about the difference between being a campaigner and being a politician. She used Jo Cox’s story to highlight the relevance of this. Jo was a campaigner – working most prominently at Oxfam – prior to her selection and election as an MP. Why did she make the transition? Julia Gillard pointed out that it’s power that actually gives us the opportunity to change things.

Women are often discouraged from seeking power – think about the overuse of words like ‘bossy’ and ‘b***h’ to describe women who openly seek it. The recent US Presidential campaign threw this into sharp global focus, but Julia also experienced it on her way to become Australia’s first (and still only) female Prime Minister.

It can seem on the surface dismissive, but she is right. You can’t make changes by being a name on a ballot paper, you have to win. The higher up the political system you climb, the more power you have, and the more change you can make.

Her speech served as a very empowering reminder that it is not only acceptable, but essential for women to seek political power, right across the world and at every level. That there should be absolutely no shame in women aspiring to hold the highest political office of the land. As politicians we can actual make changes on issues that are important to us.

As Prime Minister, she said, Julia was able to take action on several issues that mattered to her. As a campaigner with no power this would simply not have been possible. With women’s life experiences being broadly different to men’s, the issues that matter to us are of course going to be different. Again this crosses over into other disadvantaged and minority groups. When these diverse groups of people have political power, issues will be raised and changes made that transcend what just white men alone would come up with. Diversity of experience brings diversity of decision making and in the end this is the only way we can really serve society.

Roodharigendag – At Last!

This post should probably have been up months ago but better late than never.

In September 2015 I finally got to tick off my life list going to Roodharigendag – the Redhead Days festival in the Netherlands.

I’ve been following the event since it was a bit smaller, five or six years ago. The first festival was organised by Bart Rouwenhorst in 2005, bringing together a small group of redheads for a photography project. The idea stuck and, according to the festival website, 2015 saw 6,000 redheads and over 40,000 total visitors over three days across the town of Breda.

Going to the festival was one of those things that I kept saying I would do, and it sat there on the life list from the first draft so eventually I roped in my cousin and booked some flights.

It was great fun experiencing being around so many redheaded people. Slightly odd, unsurprisingly, to look around and at once feel both more and less special for having red hair.

The town of Breda isn’t far from Amsterdam so we stayed in a hotel there, spent Saturday exploring the city and then went to Breda and back on the train on Sunday. Breda is a university town with lots of history. Events that formed the festival ran not only in the park but in old and new churches, gazebos in the street and bars and cafes. The town was extremely friendly and the whole festival has a really positive atmosphere.

I took part in the huge photoshoot in the park, and had my photograph taken by photographers who had created scenes inspired by Van Gogh. We also found the ‘Mr Redhead 2015’ contest very entertaining.

If you have red hair and you’re proud of it, this festival is a really fun experience. I think if I went again I’d try to recruit a gang of redheaded friends and join in properly with the full-weekend camping and pub crawls etc.

Sadly I couldn’t make it in 2016 but perhaps I’ll see you there next year.

[This would be the ideal place to put a redheaded emoji but they still don’t quite exist yet. Sign the petition if you haven’t already.]


Here I am:RHD_CircleOutupload


Fun Things on the Internet – 1st June 2014

1. 6 Stunning photos of the Internet’s hidden infrastructure



2. Hip Hop Llama. Turn your speakers on.

via Buzzfeed.


3. The 100 most important cat pictures of all time

also via Buzzfeed (yes I am ashamed).


4. Made with Paper

A blog showcasing art and visual creations made using 53’s iPad app Paper. The app is pretty awesome too.

Made with Paper blog


5. Two Dots game

My newest puzzle game obsession, from the makers of the original Dots.

More here.

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