OPERATION BLACK VOTE (OBV)
Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Women Councillor Shadowing Scheme
The Government’s Equalities Office and Operation Black Vote (OBV) recently launched the country’s first national Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Women Councillor Shadowing Scheme. Speakers included Baroness Uddin (Chair of the BAME Women Councillors Taskforce), Simon Woolley (Director of OBV), Frank Dobson MP, Councillor Lurline Champagnie (Harrow) and Merlene Emerson representing Hammersmith & Fulham Lib Dem.
Baroness Uddin wants to see more female and minority MPs, highlighting the fact that the House of Lords is more reflective than the House of Commons. The talent pool of women from all parties should be encouraged. Politics is full of women who don’t represent their communities due to disenfranchisement and having not been encouraged to take part by the political parties who, were not doing the work to get the women involved, interested to participate but, also they must come forward to make themselves visible and to highlight issues of their communities. The need in the heart of politics to drive issues is crucial. Baroness Uddin has been a Labour supporter since she was 16. Her political involvement began as an activist leading to being a Councillor for eight years, a Deputy for three years and established in the House of Lords for eleven years. During that time, she campaigned for disability rights, local community and social policy. She is keen for change and being involved in making things happen through the ability to change, she can help shape and contribute to local politics.
The representation of BAME women at varying levels of decision-making from the Houses of Parliament to local government is woefully low. Of the 646 MPs in Westminster, two are BAME women and out of 20,000 Councillors only around 149 are BAME women, representing less than 1% of Councillors nationally. Why should women contribute to Britain and not be part of the decision making process that affects them as taxpayers and citizens? Women can influence what’s going on and they are urged to come forward and change the money that is handed to organisations, have an input on policies and legislation affecting housing, domestic violence, child & social care and issues surrounding the family. The Taskforce initiative is cross party with Liberals, Conservatives, Greens, Respect and Labour. It needs to include a range of voices and opinions and, if one’s voice is missing, how can your opinions or concerns be heard? Already, there are 600 women reached with more planned events to come. Baroness Uddin said what she found politically inspiring was, “meeting fantastic people contributing to society who bring vibrancy and energy without the money and the political infrastructure but, caring passionately and selflessly to improve the community or voluntary groups they represent”.
Councillor Lurline Champagnie is a Conservative Taskforce member for Harrow, an early member of the Taskforce set up by Harriet Harman said, “many women are not sure about politics or fully understand the perimeters. They need those like us, already involved at some level, that can show and inform about the structure and we encourage them to come forward”. Councillor Champagnie observed that when most people from ‘minorities’ came to the UK, they came to work and raise families. Politics has extended her life in many ways and she cites that one of her greatest inspirations was Margaret Thatcher as she was a strong, brave woman to be the first female Prime Minister in the male dominated world of traditional politics. As a retired former nurse, she became a Sister-in-Charge, a very senior post with responsibility. She feels that women are to use their determination and endeavours to empower and inspire the ‘Black’ people in our community. And, act as role models thus creating standards for them to aspire to.
Merlene Emerson, invited by the Government Equalities Office, put forward a presentation of how and why women should get into politics and demystify the structure of politics. The talk highlighted the reasons why women got involved and revealed that the Taskforce findings showed motivation to make a difference and improvement in social justice were some of the drivers. She also pointed to the hard work, time and research involved with being able to lobby and speak out on behalf of many organisations, individuals and communities. Having more people from diverse backgrounds is useful especially with the opportunity of the Olympics demonstrating how easy it is when wanting to reach out to, engage with other countries, know how best to communicate and make contacts. Possessing a Chinese background, for example, would be helpful in dealing with trade, economic opportunities, fostering dialogue and maintaining links.
Frank Dobson MP (Holborn & St. Pancreas), as Secretary of Health, managed to increase representation on ministerial appointment for local Black and Asian communities. During his time in government, the Labour party decided that creating an ‘all women short list’ was necessary to redress the imbalance. This was refused at first, seen to be controversial but, Labour were able to eventually make this happen. Frank Dobson feels that the role of the Taskforce is ‘to better women and minority representation in the sector’. “The basis of any sound, stable democracy, broadly speaking, represents the people in the area covered. If we don’t get a broader representation and if people felt alienated, the more people we involved in representation would stable our communities. The main thing is, to be concerned and have an aim driving for the best motivation for getting involved in politics. I feel privileged to really represent people and I enjoy it”.
Simon Woolley (OBV Founder) sees the Taskforce Shadowing Scheme as a high powered, top-draw scheme to enable women to understand how democracy works. Skill, knowledge and confidence are needed to be involved in those institutions of power. “OBV is about political empowerment, education, representation, tackling inequality in health and jobs education. We need major political power to enforce justice; we need magistrates, school governors and public appointments posts. Looking at the US, it was through political empowerment in the ‘Black’ grassroots community that took Barack Obama to Presidential status. Obama has seen the world through our eyes and has the ability to make more astute and informed decisions based on life experiences from a ‘non-White’ perspective. OBV is recruiting on-line for women to take part in the Shadowing Scheme. It is important to bash down the barriers; be savvy enough to understand the game; get intrinsically involved in what is happening politically and influence the decision making”.
This event was part of the process of bringing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women into the political process as well as raising awareness of the new OBV scheme. By working with local councils, political parties and organisations, this can improve the recruitment, training, selection and support given to candidates. See here for more details