The Labour Party was built on tackling inequality. In Liverpool City Council, we achieved our party aim of a minimum of 50% female representation in local government, with 41 female and 34 male Labour councillors after the 2018 elections.
This is partially due to the operation of all-women shortlists, but the party is no longer wholly dependent on that system to ensure that women have equal representation in local government. Politics is organically attracting more females to its arena as society generally shifts towards greater equality through legislation such as The Equality Act (2010) and movements such as #MeToo, WASPI and the gender pay gap.
Liverpool City Council has a majority female cabinet, leading on housing, culture and tourism, communities and partnerships, inclusive and accessible city and education. It has a majority of female Mayoral Leads, responsible for community safety, fairness and tackling poverty, mental health and city wellbeing, the voluntary and community sector, equalities and heritage and design.
The chairs of select committees, which undertake scrutiny of the council’s core city-wide work are equally female and male. The Liverpool Labour Group has two female deputy mayors and a female chief whip. This equal representation is an everyday victory in local politics. The broader aim of feminism, through many social and political movements, is to achieve the same opportunities for women that are available to men. Liverpool City Council is leading the way on gender balance in public political life.
In our everyday work, Liverpool councillors witness the negative impact of austerity on the equality we strive for. Austerity hurts women the most and has created a rise in female-headed households living in impoverishment. This has created an increase in period poverty, whereby women and girls are struggling to afford basic sanitary items and cannot participate in their regular lives of school or work because they cannot leave the house. An average period lasts 5-7 days. This council is leading the way in tackling period poverty and through the Mayoral Lead for Equalities, is creating period dignity across the city.
Liverpool City Council has taken a step towards addressing the inequality of gendered language and its use in the political chamber of the Town Hall. The archaic term ‘maiden speech’ has been replaced with ‘first speech’. This is a small but important victory in the campaign against archaic gendered language that signifies a woman’s marital status. This inequality of archaic language is more evident in schools, where the term Sir, given to a male teacher, is traditionally for men of title, such as knights, but female teachers are addressed as Miss (an unmarried female), rather than Dame, the titled equivalent to Sir.
The title ‘Miss’ represents a time when women worked until they married, after which they would stay at home and raise a family as a ‘Mrs’. I am grateful that we have evolved from ’a woman’s place is in the home’ to ‘a woman’s place is in the house…of commons’. If any female teachers read this, I hope you insist on your right to be called Dame in the classroom, if only to highlight the absurdity of ascribed titles. Happy International Women’s Day!