Mandy Clare – Report Back from First National Women’s Commitee (9th Sept 2021)
This morning I attended the first National Women’s Committee (NaWC) Meeting online and am happy to report that it was very constructive, with some great points being made and some key organisational/procedural arrangements now well on their way to being firmed up.
Introductions and Terms of Reference
It was lovely to meet everyone – we had an initial round of introductions and then progressed to the elections of officers to the committee. We elected Ruth Hayes as our Chair and will be balloted on the nominations for Vice Chair over the coming week. I seconded Ruth for Chair and nominated Pamela Fitzpatrick for one of the two Vice Chair positions. We agreed that meetings need to be held more frequently than the three/year indicated in the draft Terms of Reference and a number of us proposed that meetings need a longer duration than two hours to get through business and be inclusive of such a large and pro-active group. We anticipate that our next meeting will therefore be held in November instead of January 2022.
In attendance were Annelise Dodds MP and Karin Smyth MP and staff support was provided to the committee mainly by Charlotte Gerarda (Labour Party National Women’s Officer) and Frazer Welsh (Labour Party Head of Internal Governance).
As Marsha De Cordova MP was unable to attend and the agenda amended accordingly, a member asked that an issue she had planned to raise under that item be rescheduled for next time. The issue was in relation to the safety and security of women in the public eye and the member referenced the treatment of Apsana Begum MP.
There was a debate about whether future meetings would be more inclusive if online, hybrid or in person. Because any of those options can lead to exclusion either through cost or digital access, the Chair and staff agreed to look at this and come back to us with ideas. The point was also made that attendance had been boosted in Scotland where the cost of conference had been met by party centrally and the event held online rather than in-person. A staff member also agreed to look at whether everyone who needed to participate in online Women’s Committee meetings had access to the necessary IT to do so.
A committee member asked that the Terms of Reference be amended and brought in line with the rules for the Women’s Committee. Further clarification where there are important differences will be addressed by Frazer Welsh.
I was able to raise several points and ask for assurances on a number of issues:
First of all, thank you to all women who submitted comments and concerns/requests for support following National Women’s Conference, either independently or through the online questionnaire I circulated in response. I have sought assurance from the Chair and Women’s Officer that all of these concerns and comments (not just those fed back through formal party channels) will be taken account of in planning our future Women’s Conferences and have committed to providing a summary report to be circulated to our members. I will request that this summary report of your feedback is also passed on to members of the Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee, the CAC for Annual Conference and the NEC, to anyone who chaired a compositing meeting. I will request responses to the each of the main points or recommendations highlighted in my report from each of those groups and ensure those responses and any resulting actions or changes are shared with members. I asked for more clarity on the mechanics and specifics of how this committee will influence and shape future Women’s Conference planning.
Women’s Committee members have been allocated a place at Annual Conference, as visitors. I requested that the Chair and staff along with the committee look at how we can avoid excluding committee members on low incomes from taking up their conference place and it was agreed by several within the meeting that this was an important issue – feedback will be forthcoming on this. Members also requested that the Women’s Committee pass for conference be raised to the status of ex-officio, rather than kept as visitor, so that committee members can participate in debates and so that we have the option to formally propose/endorse motions passed at Women’s Conference (subject to that being the group’s preferred approach). This is something staff are happy to look into for us.
A member raised that we need more evidence and clarity to justify continuation of the current ‘second delegate’ equalities specification for Women’s Conference, as there seems to be no evidence that it is working as intended and some evidence that it actually causes problems for some women. I supported this suggestion and added a request that if the second delegate selection process continues in some form, that low income working class women be included in the equalities list, given the stark under-representation of women at all levels within the party from this demographic and cultural background. It was agreed these points would be looked at by the Chair and NWO, who would report back to the group.
We were supplied with a presentation of the key findings of the National Women’s Conference 2021 Feedback Survey and I have asked that this be made available to members – staff will consult and feed back to the committee on this. I also asked that when monitoring who is attending any of our conferences and asking for formal feedback, we capture income bracket data from members who are willing to share it, in order to assess our baseline in terms of income inclusion and to improve on this. Other members seemed to agree this was a worthwhile suggestion and the staff agreed to find out what we already capture in relation to income and attendance/feedback and to see how we might implement this if we have a gap.
Our Scottish Section representative raised a concern at the behest of the Scottish NaWC. This concerned a motion that was meant to be heard by Women's Conference, submitted by Scottish Women and was unfortunately not heard. The representative posited that this is not in keeping with the spirit of the party rules and asked that an alternative route be considered by the committee for future motions from the nations to conference. It was requested that whatever arrangement could be agreed, it enable the motion to be heard, whatever the subject matter. One suggestion was that the motions that the rule book encourages nations to submit to Women’s Conference by-pass grouping and compositing and go straight to conference to be heard as they have been submitted, in a similar way to how the motions from Women’s to Annual Conference also by-pass those siftings. The Chair and officers agreed to discuss further and feed back their proposal/s.
I mentioned that I had drafted rule changes relevant to working class inclusion and would like support from colleagues in gathering wider and more high profile support for these for next year's Women’s and Annual Conferences. The relevant proposed rule change drafts can be found on my website Here and Here
Priorities for the NaWC and Leadership
In terms of priorities for the committee, a member shared that they felt the political influence of the Women’s Committee falls more naturally in relation to ensuring Women’s Conference motion composites are embedded within our policy programme rather than in influencing the structure and procedures for conference. I shared that although the 2021 Women’s Conference was a huge learning curve and mammoth undertaking having been conducted online, women had disclosed some quite serious misgivings about some areas of Women’s Conference process and fairness, some having felt they had been silenced because of their viewpoint. I made the point as a result, that we might need to be involved in all aspects of conference planning – prior to and after conference - to ensure that women are confident all has been done to ensure the processes have been as robustly democratic as possible. This is a theme we will no doubt return to, but a constructive suggestion was made by one member that we identify what areas of work each of the committee would would like to lead on and I supported this suggestion.
All Women’s Shortlists
Annelise Dodds MP provided an overview of the legal status regarding All Women’s Shortlists, now that equality target quotas in relation to the wider population demography have been reached for Labour MPs. For areas where women’s equality has not been achieved, AWS remains fully legal. This would include around two thirds of Labour Groups so AWS within council selections is still very important, as an example. I made the point that working class low income women are hugely under-represented at all levels of the party and if we could be open to an approach that reflects that and recognises the particular barriers, it would be worth looking into whether we could take that approach as an alternative where women’s equality quotas have been met. Members agreed that an urgent agreement is needed on the best alternative and one member made the point that they are not wedded to AWS as an end in itself – we need to look at the broadest range of issues holding women back and address those however is most effective. Annelise suggested that we might have a presentation on the new party complaints structure at our next meeting and also updated that we now have an Action Plan on sexual harassment https://labour.org.uk/complaints/
We were updated on the status and number of Women’s Branches – there has been a green light from the NEC since the conclusion of the local elections for women to set up branches, whether or not they have a Forum in existence. Any problems with this, or questions about process, please do get in touch with one of the Women’s Committee members or with Charlotte Gerarda. We have agreed to form a Women’s Branches Sub-Committee to enable smoother access to training and support around this issue. Here is the link to the party’s Women’s Organisation page, which has relevant support documents on how to set up a Women's Branch
We all agreed to promote the party’s Women’s Newsletter so here it is if you would like to sign up
Best wishes to all, thanks again for electing me and please get in touch if you have questions or need support firstname.lastname@example.org