False empowerment at Labour’s Women’s Conference

Did you know that there was a full day of a Labour Party National Women’s Conference, which happens just before the annual Labour Party Conference kicks off?

It takes place on the Saturday before the full annual conference starts on the Sunday.

For a moment, let’s just put a pin in the fact that this in itself it exclusionary to Orthodox Jewish women who might want to attend.

Let’s just focus for a moment on the conference, what it is, what it does, and what happens there.

Women’s conference feels a bit like an addendum to the full conference.

I guess it is, but actually, that’s already part of the problem. From the outset, it already feels like it isn’t taken as seriously by the party.

You can tell that from the format, the structure, and what happens there.

A large part of the Women’s Conference is a series of policy debates. This in itself is frustrating, as although giving women a dedicated space to debate policy (as policies can often effect women differently to men) is positive, nothing is decided or voted on in these debates.

Women’s conference is not a policy making forum, and therefore you are left with a feeling of almost false empowerment. A sense that the party are saying “we kind of want to hear what you’re saying, but you don’t actually get to vote or decide anything in this specific forum. Save it for the next few days.”

I understand this to an extent, as having multiple policy making fora might not always be that helpful; there has to be a large element of practicality and functionality to decision making processes.

However, if you are going to suggest to a conference full of women who have turned up to debate policy, at very least, have a structured outline to the debates. At least present what the Labour policies are and then invite people to debate them. It’s not enough to empower women to simply stand up and say how much the current government aren’t doing.

At a Labour Party Conference, we should have been talking about what our party needs to do for women in these areas and debate those instead.

Away from the policy debates, there were a couple of breakout sessions, one of which aimed to discuss the role of faith and women in the party.

Much of this panel discussion was interesting and informative about the issues that women of faith face within their constituencies.

Sadly, this was also the forum where some women decided to express their displeasure at the attention given to anti-Semitism within the party, and that as they felt they had not experienced any anti-Semitism, to them, it didn’t exist.

All of this was made worse by the rousing applause that followed their contributions.

Even in a space dedicated to welcoming to women, and furthermore, within a session dedicated to discussing the additional challenges that women of faith can face, as a Zionist Jew, I still wasn’t entirely welcome.

This is my challenge; as a Jewish woman, will I only be welcome in this already niche space if I decide to agree that anti-Semitism isn’t an issue?

Or will the women in the Labour Party, who talk so much about solidarity and sisterhood, accept that further marginalisation of religious female voices within the party cannot be made to feel unwelcome because some feel that anti-Semitism isn’t an issue.

Women’s Conference should be a place where women in the Labour Party are made to feel genuinely empowered and like their contributions and voices matter.

Despite my issues with the way this conference was run and my issues with views expressed by some of the delegates, it has to be noted that the Labour Party is still well ahead of other the political parties, who do not have equivalent events.

Almost even more frustratingly, the Women’s Conference is just not reflective of the Labour Women’s Network, their leadership, or Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme.

This glimpse in to the Labour Party National Women’s Conference will hopefully be more positive in years to come, but it is clear that there is much work to be done to make women of all faiths understood, and not just welcomed, but valued within the party’s dedicated spaces.

  • Judith Flacks is the Jewish Labour Movement’s Networks Officer
About the Author
Working and volunteering in the Jewish community paying close attention to communal campaigns, youth, female leadership, and community development.
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