• Josie Channer

3 Stages to Political Empowerment: Working Class Women

3 Stages of Political Empowerment: Working Class Women

By Josie Channer

Councillot Josie Channer
Councillot Josie Channer

The role of women in public life in general has been high on the agenda in recent years in all political parties. The action that the Labour Party has taken with All Women Shortlists has increased the number of women MPs significantly – but it’s not enough. Many would agree that to promote gender equality in the workplace, parliament should lead the way by dealing with its own house. However, improvements in the number of

female MPs, some might say, is restricted to the “right” type of women, meaning women who have the money and the time to go through the current gruelling and often fruitless selection process.

Negative attitudes relating to class are acutely felt by working class women as they have to battle against both sexism and class stereotypes. Working class women seem to draw the short straw at every turn. After years of austerity, in the workplace it’s our jobs that go first; the extra cleaner, sales assistant or dinner lady. Yet the voice of working-class women can barely be heard in Westminster or in the council chambers across our country.

I have identified three stages that under-represented groups need to take in their journey for political and social empowerment.

1. The first stage is to simply be awake to the problem as an individual and as a community. The benefits of diversity in the workplace has been highlighted by campaigns led by women, the LGBTQ, Black organisations and disability groups that have demanded change. Change is not going to happen if we don’t campaign for it and support each other to move forward.

2. Secondly, accepting as an individual that you have the capability to challenge the lack of social mobility in everyday life. Many women don’t have the confidence to put themselves forward for public office because they think that they lack the ‘right’ education, don’t speak ‘right”, or don’t have the ‘right’ experience. Many women also believe, as I did, that those women who are ‘better’ educated, can speak ‘right’ and have the ‘right’ experience are best placed to represent us. The trade union movement was essential in training and empowering working-class men with these skills. The trade union movement is now putting effort into training women.

3. Thirdly, being able to speak out, then speak out again and keep speaking out. We can become dependent on other people to change things or speak out for what we believe, but the glass ceiling needs to be smashed from down below.

It feels like there is a wave of disengagement from the political process among certain groups of our society. In this climate of apathy, I am concerned that working-class women will be pushed increasingly to the margins.