Women’s Committee CLP Rep Report February 2022

Mandy Clare looks forward to next month’s National Women’s Conference

The third National Women’s Conference is almost upon us on 19th/20th March. Since my last report I have attended a January 2022 National Women’s Committee (NWC) meeting, established a new FB page Click Here and been involved in collective pulling of threads together ahead of Annual Women’s Conference (AWC) 2022 to try to ensure all deadlines and communications were fair and clear and that the event, which is being held online again, can be as participative and democratic as possible.

If there are any urgent procedural or democratic issues or problems that do arise during the conference or prior, I can’t promise a resolution but can monitor and pass on concerns to Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee (WCAC) and staff colleagues. Contact me on mandyclare.cheshirelabour@gmail.com / 07751 229453 on WhatsApp. 

Motions, Rule Changes, Nominations and Updates for Women’s Conference 2022

Please do take all steps possible locally to get a great motion or rule change through to AWC22. We need to hear from women on the issues that are important to you and from this year, we have the opportunity to submit rule changes as well as motions.  Rule changes don’t go through compositing and don’t require lots of other CLPs/Branches in support to be tabled, debated and voted through.  Some of my favourites have been published by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy for you to adapt or just use as they are, depending on what stands out for you, or you can draft your own. 

Rule Change Suggestions

Suggested Motions

Please note only CLP Secretaries or Chairs can submit the agreed motion online – it must be submitted by 12 Noon on 21st Feb and they can submit itHere

Women and Disability

I submitted a short report with recommendations to Disability Labour to supplement their input into online conference planning – this was based on feedback I received from female party members and they thanked me for it.

I also submitted a proposed motion draft to Disability Labour that may be of interest to members, but we may be timed out in promoting that.  If there are women who can relate though and would like to support, please do consider submitting this for approval and speaking in support of this issue in Compositing/on Conference floor if you are attending as a delegate. The motion reflects the fact that most women are either carers or mothers – many are both – and the currently disability rights assessment system does not take specific account of the effect of disability on women’s ability to perform those roles adequately.  Neither does it take adequate account of the effect a woman having a disability has on those she is responsible for caring for.  This seems a significantly neglected area of sexism and discrimination and the motion calls upon the party to put it right if they do manage to win the next election.  The motion can be found on my website Here

Please nominate the left candidates for the Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee – Gillian Arrindell, Jean Crocker and Selina Norgrove – by 12 Noon on Thursday 10 March. This is a diverse group of experienced left-wing activists standing to ensure a socialist, feminist and democratic Labour Women’s Conference.

Second Survey of Women’s Views

As previously reported, I submitted a comprehensive analysis of the feedback I received from women who attended AWC21 and wanted me to put forward recommendations for change on their behalf.  I was unable to ensure every member of the WCAC had sight of those recommendations despite several attempts, but the party have since conducted an additional survey of women’s views and the feedback from women strongly supports the recommendations I prepared earlier this year. 

NWC members had very limited opportunity to input into the design of those surveys and this is something I have been working to address for next time.  The results have not been published as yet, but I have requested that women have sight of them.  In the meantime, in summary, the results indicate that democracy is the most important aspect of Women’s Conference. Women want timely information, as well as a fair and transparent process in relation to a number of areas including chairing, speaker selection and compositing.  Removal of barriers in relation to accessibility, cost and safety are important for us to address. 

I promoted the survey as far and wide as possible among women I am connected to, to encourage as broad a representation of views, experiences and aspirations as possible. There were no recommendations formed from those results as we were pressed for time in our January meeting, but given the strength of some of the main headlines within the overall response, I am hopeful that it will influence continued improvements both to this year’s and subsequent years’ conferences.  Work with others between meetings throughout has been very much focused on ensuring that the valuable feedback from women is responded to fully. 

January’s Women’s Committee Meeting

Work with colleagues across the left and in women’s organisations resulted in some positive steps forward within January’s Women’s Committee Meetings, which have been covered by Ann Henderson in her report back to members, which you can access Here

I emailed staff prior to our January meeting to raise issues regarding the Women’s Conference section of the website and managed to get the wording clarified to show that rule changes as well as motions could be submitted and a button added for submission of rule changes.  I also raised with staff that the website indicated all of the conditions necessary to meet the eligibility requirements for a motion or rule change to be accepted for AWC22 apart from the one that specifies it must relate to women – this has also now been corrected.

There were a number of issues raised within meetings that I felt were important but had been left out of the Minutes.  Having raised this at the November meeting, there was an agreement to resolve by email and organise a sign-off at the next meeting, although the minutes of both the Women’s Committee and the Women’s Branches Subgroup subsequently noted the Minutes as having been signed-off and agreed, with no Matters Arising.  We corrected this Minute at the January meeting, as none of our Minutes have signed off yet.  This will hopefully be resolved by email and signed off formally next time for both the NWC and the Branches Subgroup. 

As Ann Henderson’s report indicates, agreement was reached that members would, together with the Chair and Vice Chairs, propose and agree a set of clearer Standing Orders for our meetings and set out a Work Plan for the year ahead.

Standing Orders I am recommending on behalf of members:

Agenda -Itemsfor considerationsubmitted by members three weeks in advance and agreement reached by WhatsApp Group/email list.  Agenda and Draft Minutes circulated one week in advance.

Proposed Fixed Items covering ongoing themes that are priorities the committee oversees, for example:

  • report back from staff on relevant issues raised by women via the generic email and any response offered/resolution achieved and opportunity for members to raise any issues that have been brought to their attention and require committee consideration/action/response
  • maximising inclusion and participation – branches, Women’s Conference, training provision, policy development
  • Conference planning and post-Conference consultation
  • report backs from nations (and regions as regional structures become more established)
  • MP updates section

Status of items – all items kept open for discussion/questions/recommendations.

Decision-making – Chair to sum up at the end of each, check all actions captured by minute-taker and ask if any recommendations to be proposed/agreed before moving on.  Suggested recommendations to National Executive Committee / Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee/NEC Equalities Subgroup to be posted within the meeting chat to help the Chair in summarising, or raised verbally by members through the Chair.  Agreement by ‘seeing lots of nods, any dissent?’ and only where necessary go to a majority vote.

Minutes – Chair to communicate with members between meetings to agree any amendments so that an ‘as far as possible finalised’ draft can be emailed out to members a week prior and be approved at subsequent meeting in person by the whole group. 

Minutes – To include summary of any issue raised, main points of discussion, recommendations and actions agreed.

Minutes – To be published on the website once approved by the committee, with any confidential elements redacted by agreement of a majority of the committee.

Minutes – An independent minute-taker should be provided in order that the National Women’s Officer can participate more fully.

Workplan items I am recommending on behalf of members:

  • Immediately after AWC22 we need to design, publicise, analyse and propose recommendations to NEC/WWAC, etc., and report back to women on how they felt the Conference went, what improvements they asked for and what we are doing to ensure any desired changes are actioned
  • Design and implement as above the survey that was agreed within the Women’s Branch’s Subcommittee on barriers or factors putting women off establishing branches and any additional factors slowing this procedurally.  To be disseminated to Women’s Officers (and I would propose all women members)
  • Arrange for NWC to meet with the General Secretary to discuss how we can ensure the budget allocated is sufficient to enable the committee to fulfil its intended role

Please let me know if you think of anything I have missed out.

Future Surveys and Consultations with Women – National Women’s Committee to oversee and sign off the design of any formal consultations with women.  NWC to decide which channels consultations should be promoted through and oversee analysis, providing recommendations relating to outcomes that support improvements within party structures and processes as appropriate and reporting back outcomes to women members through the Women’s Organisation section of the party website, the newsletter and the NWC Annual Report to both conferences. 

NWC to ensure any consultations conducted with women, whether on AWC, women’s branches, women’s involvement in the policy-making process or any other area of party democracy, demonstrably shape and improve women’s representation and participation within the Party.

NWC may want a role in collectively drafting and agreeing motions they want to publicise to women members for Women’s Conference, based on insights and issues that have arisen over the past year.

NWC may want more of an active role in overseeing National Conference planning and processes, including provision of training to women.  Sufficient time should be built into the meetings schedule to allow for this to happen meaningfully and resource constraints should worked around if necessary to allow for this to happen.

Meetings should be of a sufficient frequency and duration, taking account of disability needs and precedent across other groups with a similarly senior and wide-ranging remit. At our last meeting there were 15 agenda items to be covered in two hours, without items having been proposed or added by members and there were many outstanding items left unresolved prior to conference – for example, involvement of the NWC in the provision of training and fringe events, in the provision of an additional layer of democracy in motion/rule change acceptance/ruling out, in discussing proposed rule changes we may want to formally add our support to, in having a role in deciding themes for debate, in signing off the timetable for Women’s Conference.

NWC should have sight of the budget allocationfor the work of the Women’s Organisation and influence over how that is prioritised

Communication with WCAC

Given our political oversight role, recommendations being taken from Women’s Committee to WCAC should be approved as accurate by members prior.  This should also happen with the Chair/Vice Chair meetings – the Women’s Committee members should be able to make clear recommendations and raise issues via that route and decision-making on any proposed agreements should be brought back by Chairs and VCs to the Women’s Committee.  The meetings should be an additional route of communication, rather than a decision-making body on behalf of the Women’s Committee. 

If we were to mirror the relationship between the NEC and CAC exactly, this would ignore that both WCAC and NWC are new and evolving, led by women, whereas the NEC is well established.  There are parallels, for example, status and importance, but also differences, so how we work together and establish protocols will need to reflect this and must be steered primarily by the NWC, which has political oversight and an important role in ensuring full participation and healthy democracy within the Women’s Organisation.

Concern – Emerging Reports Indicating Patterns of Increasing Discrimination

I followed up on an email I was copied into from a local member concerning the wording of the application form for local council candidates in their area.  I checked and found that it didn’t ask if applicants were women – only if they identified as women, meaning that women are only given options ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question.  The respondent in this case didn’t identify as a woman, she is a woman, so it was felt that the only option available would be to tick ‘no’, which she did.  The form needs amending and I am awaiting a response from the Party but will follow up again. 

I have heard from several women who have reported having been singled out or treated unfairly during selection processes as a result of their having expressed legally protected views and having expressed concerns about women’s rights and protected spaces.  This appears to be part of a wider pattern of harassment and discrimination against women that I have also tried to raise within my committee role as it greatly concerns me. 

This emerging pattern is now being reported by the national media and I believe we need to do whatever is necessary within the Party to ensure that how we treat women, how we present rules, how we capture equalities data and everything we do complies with the Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to free speech. 

A dossier of evidence of mistreatment and discrimination against women has been compiled by one organisation and is being prepared for submission to the EHRC.  The Party need to be aware of where we could be in breach of the law, which could ultimately result in a legal challenge.  This risk isn’t just important because of the financial precarity we currently face as a Party, but also because ensuring women are protected from harassment, bullying and discrimination is the right thing to do.  All members should be protected and where there are areas of conflict between different groups in relation to claims on rights, we must lead the way on ensuring a safe and respectful environment in which discussion and debate can be conducted in order to identify solutions. 

We need to also ensure that where women feel they have been treated unfairly, they are supported to make use of the complaints procedure and where necessary to pursue appeals.  If you have experienced bullying or discrimination in relation to your sex or your legally protected beliefs, or have struggled with achieving adequate redress through the complaints system, please do let me know as I am keen to ensure we are not hiding from this issue, however contentious or difficult it may be.  I intend to do all I can to ensure we have robust and fair systems in place for women.  Bullying, harassment of anyone is unacceptable; the complaints procedure needs to be fit for purpose in this regard and discrimination against women is never acceptable.

Concern – Communications, Fair Processes and Inclusion

A couple of months ago, I was copied into an email to the Party from Lesbian Labour, explaining they had a very constructive meeting with an MP earlier in the year and were hoping to meet with her successor to carry on the conversation.  Having written to the generic email for Women’s Committee, they asked whether members of the committee get to see correspondence.

This is something I have also raised concerns about in meetings and will continue to push to see action on.  The position currently is that the generic email for correspondence between members and the NWC are triaged by staff. 

The email from Lesbian Labour, which NWC had not had sight of, reported an anomaly that seemed to have occurred. After a six month wait for a response to their application to become a Friends of Labour group, they had received an email declining that status on 8th November from Stakeholders and Equalities.  The reason given was that the rule was not to duplicate groups which cover the same area. In their opinion, lesbians were included under the umbrella of LGBT Labour and therefore a Lesbian Labour group was not needed as a formal ‘Friends of Labour’ group.

Lesbian Labour had pointed out in their email that the group who inspired them to apply was Labour Trans Equality, who have been focusing on their own issues as a new single issue group since stepping out from the umbrella earlier this year. They reported that they had been granted Friends status within three weeks of applying.  Lesbian Labour pointed out that there are other duplications listed on the Labour Friends page – which itself is out of date.  They pointed out that they would not have formed if they had not felt it was necessary, that they felt surely members should identify what their own support needs were and hoped that this was an oversight that could be easily rectified.  They pointed out that they are also now left without representation, as LGBT Labour had refused to work with them.

The issue of a new women’s group needing support in order to achieve ‘Friends of’ status or affiliation was raised at November’s Women’s Committee meeting and it was agreed that a meeting between the Chair/Vice Chairs and the new group would be arranged in the first instance, to ascertain support needs and address any difficulties. 

The planned meeting seems not to have taken place, but the group have received a letter confirming that Stakeholders and Equalities make the decisions in relation to ‘Friends of’ status eligibility and re-stating the duplication rule.  The letter didn’t pick up on the LGBT Labour refusal to work with Lesbian Labour but stated that the wording on the official website list has been changed.  Labour Trans Equality group does not appear to now be listed; however, I will be asking for the agreed meeting to be convened as soon as possible once AWC 22 is concluded so that the Party can be fully inclusive of the support needs and views of all women across the party.  This lesbian group are currently without representation within the party, which seems unfair.

I have raised that we need a fuller report of emails received into the generic email address and other NWC members have now added their support to this request.  I hope that we will be able to be more involved in helping to resolve issues like this one.  It is important that we are kept aware of any ongoing difficulties in relation to inclusion and I would like to invite any women who would like my support in raising issues either through the Women’s Committee and/or through my reports to please get in touch.  We do have extremely strained resources within the Party currently, as many are aware and anything I can do within my role to flag up outstanding issues, I will.  Many within the NWC are pushing for a greater share of remaining resources to be made available to enable the committee to fulfil its role as agreed by members and the NEC.

Progress on Key Priorities

I had emailed to request that we prioritise time on our agenda to discuss how we can work around the lack of resource within the Party currently, to ensure that we could still form working groups around the following priority issues:

  • Social Class and Low Income Inclusion
  • Promoting Respectful Debate
  • Women’s Committee Member online and newsletter presence
  • WC/WCAC Joint Working re Women’s Conference Planning, Processes and Related Training
  • Women’s Branches
  • Policy

Although some of these were not picked up formally between our November and January meetings, some partially were (Women’s Branches, policy, Joint working and conference planning) and the others should also be able to be picked up more fully now that we have agreed to set out clearer Standing Orders and a Work Plan for 2022/23 and beyond.

Good News – Equalities Monitoring and the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme

I received a response to my query about how we monitor low income representation across applicants and participants on the Jo Cox Women’s Programme.  I was really pleased to see that our monitoring is quite thorough and not only asks for specific information about which sector and skill level women who are employed work in/at, but also additional questions to help ascertain socio-economic background such as university attendance and type of school attended.

My intended follow-up is to find out what the socio-economic profile is of those who apply, are accepted and complete the programme.  It would also be interesting to see any monitoring of the proportion of women who go on to secure positions of influence after completion in terms of socio-economic background and if this is improving.

To those who are attending, have a fab Women’s Conference 2022. I hope to ‘see’ some of you there!

Mandy Clare is a CLP rep on Labour’s Women’s Committee. Contact: Mandyclare.cheshirelabour@gmail.com

Image: Party Conference 2021, by Emma Tait.

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