To mark International Women’s Day, Wanstead resident Councillor Judith Garfield MBE talks about some of the problems she has faced as a woman in politics
I have had my fair share of prejudice, stereotyping and aggression, all because I am a woman in politics. Whilst many may expect that to be par for the course that goes with the territory, I am concerned about younger women continuing to face the same barriers in public life. That is why I am supporting #ChoosetoChallenge – enabling women worldwide to challenge gender bias and inequality.
As a single mum with a five-year-old son, I struggled with finding and funding childcare whilst I attended council meetings. There was no creche, a nominal allowance that was difficult to access and no maternity leave. On one occasion when I pointed this out to the leadership of the council where I served, I was told, ‘make a choice, be a mother or a councillor, you can’t have both’. To think that was just 21 years ago is shocking. Today I am proud to serve on a council that has done more than any other in London to encourage women into leadership positions and to reduce the gender pay gap.
On another occasion, my interest in planning issues was curtailed and I was told that my skillset was better suited to Sure Start and working with children. The failure to understand that I had more to contribute than just my motherhood was both short sighted and meant that areas like planning became even more male-dominated. I am glad to say things have changed, but we still have a lot more to do.
Today our challenge is to make sure that meetings are rid of toxic aggression, that women representatives get to speak as much as men, that our voices are heard, and our advice and experience is valued.
Feminist values offer a new style of leadership – a leadership that is collaborative, compassionate and caring. I am proud to see more of my male councillor colleagues also starting to embrace these traits. Women in public life have come a long way from the days when we were not allowed to vote, but we must continue to challenge discrimination and marginalisation where it occurs – which is my whole reasoning for being in politics!
Happy International Women’s Day, and regardless of your gender, please #ChoosetoChallenge.