Q: Why are you Chair of Lib Dem women?
I owe a lot to Liberal Democrat Women.
I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2016, because of Brexit. I think like many people who had never been involved in politics before, 2016 was a wake-up call to stand up for what we believe in. As a new member, my first time at autumn conference in 2017 I was keen to stand for Parliament but did not know when to start. I am a feminist and passionate about gender equality so headed to the Lib Dem Women stall, there I met the then Chair Flo Clucas, from that point onwards she introduced me to an incredible Liberal Democrat network of women and the Campaign for Gender Balance. Since then I have stood as a European and a UK Parliamentary candidate, supported by formal and informal mentoring, training and advice.
As Chair of Liberal Democrat Women, I want every woman in this party to have that experience and feel that they can stand up for what they believe in, I know from meeting many women that this is not the case.
Q: Why does Liberal Democrat Women exist?
Liberal Democrat Women believe that we are in the midst of a significant and dangerous backlash against the progress towards gender equality made since the start of the 20th century. The American elections and EU referendum of 2016 mark a watershed moment where illiberal views became legitimised and women’s hard-won rights came under immediate threat, making the fight for true gender equality even harder.
We need action. We believe there is an urgent need for a liberal campaigning group to protect existing women’s rights and promote liberal, feminist policies that recognise women as autonomous, valued individuals with personal agency in both the public and the private spheres.
We believe that pursuing this aim will be to the benefit of everyone in society, breaking down restrictive and oppressive gender norms for all genders across class, race, disability and sexual orientation. To this end we will make it our priority to take an intersectional approach to everything we do so we leave no one behind.
Q: What are Liberal Democrat Women focusing on?
Working with our members, Liberal Democrat Women are focusing our efforts in five key areas:
Act against gender discrimination – There is still discrimination (unconscious and conscious) within all political parties including the Liberal Democrats. We use our influence within the party to call out discrimination and prompt action to stop it. We also campaign outside the party to drive policy change that supports our liberal, feminist agenda. Our organisation and members have been heavily involved in supporting the new complaints process in the party and are an important point of contact for women in the party with issues. We are working with Federal Policy Committee to get an intersectional feminist view embedded in our policy making process.
Normalise women in politics and society – Women are still considered a ‘minority’ issue, despite us being 50% of the population. Liberal Democrat women will fight to ensure that women’s representation reflects our numbers in society by ensuring women are visible and their voices heard as a matter of course. We have launched a bursary scheme to help liberal women get elected and are working with ALDC to get more women into local council positions.
No woman left behind, ask and listen to all – There has been fair criticism that the women’s movement has been dominated by white, middle class women. As liberals we recognise that this does not reflect many women’s experience of inequality. Liberal Democrat Women recognise that we need to reach out proactively to all women and understand their experiences. We will actively encourage participation of women who have diverse experiences and recognise these intersectional concerns in our policy and campaigns. We are reaching out other similar liberal organisations to ensure we have diverse representation, and are planning joint policy and campaigns.
Positive education – The terms feminist and liberal are often treated with suspicion and concern by all genders. Liberal Democrat Women recognise we need to do better at communicating these ideas in tangible, positive ways that people will embrace. We will work to educate people on the positive benefits of feminist and liberal values to improve gender equality in our society. We will build on the radical liberal roots of feminism, starting from John Stuart Mill and will make the direct link that being liberal naturally aligns you with equal rights for women. We are creating numerous ways to engage with liberalism and feminism – come and join our Facebook group, watch out for our conference this year.
Q: How do I get involved?
Helen is the Liberal Democrat’s parliamentary spokesperson for Brentford and Isleworth and Chair of Liberal Democrat Women. She is also a member of the Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee. She tweets @Helen4LibDems.