20th December 2018 – There was healthy interest in our meeting to discuss the issue of All Women Shortlists (AWS) in Hitchin on December 14th. The meeting was held as a prelude to the selection of a Labour candidate to contest the next General Election.

The meeting, attended by 24 members from across the constituency, began with an address from Kay Tart, constituency Women’s Officer, in which she outlined some of the reasons for adopting All Women’s Shortlists. Some of the key points were as follows:

• AWS exist as a means to improve the unacceptably poor levels of women’s representation in Parliament and are a positive action measure to increase women’s presence at all levels.

• AWS is the most effective way of ensuring fair representation for women in Parliament.

• Since Labour’s introduction of all-women shortlists in 1997, there has been a dramatic improvement in the representation of women in parliament. A 2016 briefing revealed that these shortlists were instrumental in doubling the number of female MPs between 1992 and 1997, from 9.2 per cent to 18.2 per cent.

• With 119 Labour women MPs, 45% of the Parliamentary Labour Party are women and Labour still has more women MPs than all the other Parties put together and are the only political party which takes women’s representation seriously. However, only 32% of MPs across all parties are women.

• In an ideal world, candidates would be selected on merit alone, and we would not need to use AWS. Unfortunately, all the evidence is that we do not have a level playing field, and, if we truly believe in equality, we need to do something proactive to even things up. This is why AWS exist.

• We explored the fact that without AWS our CLP would have the normal selection of two women and two men and people thought this seemed fair. However, AWS means a woman will be selected and prevents discrimination conscious or subconscious in the selection process.

Robust and respectful discussion followed. Whilst this report does not pretend to reflect every opinion expressed, here are some:

• Overt and covert gender discrimination in the workplace, and everyday life, remains a serious, frightening and demeaning experience for many women.

• Discrimination in any form, is discrimination, and should not be tolerated, even when it is intended to be positive.

• We want to win this constituency for Labour, and need the best candidate to win the seat, regardless of gender.

• Our best chance of winning this seat comes from having a genuinely local person, who happens to be a woman. The incumbent MP is a man, as is the LibDem candidate.

• Women are not the only group to be discriminated against. We need to do much better in ensuring that people with disabilities, and black and minority ethnic groups are represented too.

The meeting was required to reach a consensus on the issue, and thus a vote was held to determine how many of us were in favour, or against having an AWS in our shortlist. 70% of those present were in favour of AWS. A number of written submissions had been made prior to the meeting. They were 50/50 for and against AWS.

It is now for Labour’s NEC to tell us when to open our selection process, and whether that should be an AWS or not.

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