Zeireen Fuzurally interviews Ava Etemadzadeh about Labour, Feminism and #MeToo
At a time where the most powerful man in the world, the U.S President has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and is still in office with no investigation pending, it is debatable whether change is happening to the extent that it should be. This of course, extends to the many others across all industries. What is happening with change, if anything, within this movement for women and justice?
I met Ava Etemadzadeh earlier this year at an alumni event and we had a friendly conversation about politics in the Labour Party amongst other things. She is a postgraduate student like me at a UoL institution and seemed passionate about women's rights. It was only mid- way through our conversation that I realised she was the girl who made allegations against my MP, Kelvin Hopkins. I have spent a little time around Kelvin and while I was surprised at the accusations, I knew that if anything that this movement has highlighted, is that anyone can be guilty. I believed her.
Over a month or so after we first met, we arranged a catch-up. Around the time we met, Ava was told that Kelvin would be allowed to question her through an audio link/written questions at her hearing. This is clearly problematic and insensitive for a victim of sexual harassment to endure and highlights a deep problem going on in the Labour Party and with its leadership amidst the on-going debacle regarding anti-Semitism too.
Anyway, Instead of talking about her experience in further detail, I thought it would be better if I asked her some brief questions directly:
How has the Party’s internal procedure regarding your case made you feel?
Disappointed. The process is chaotic, bureaucratic and opaque. Communication has been bad and I have heard about updates on my case from the media rather than my own party. I don't feel adequately supported by them.
How many other women in Parliament do you think went through the same thing but did not report it?
Many others. With Lord Renard for example there was no action taken. I've heard stories from women and men. From parliamentary assistants and occurrences at socials.
Were you surprised at the extent of insensitivity and inaction regarding your case despite the #metoo movement?
Yes. I joined the Labour Party because of its values and women's reputation within it. I thought their rights were given and women were very well supported but my experience has shown me otherwise. There is no proper procedure regarding sexual harassment in the Party, only a complaints procedure which is different. Its disappointing. Regarding evidence, I don't want to be questioned by him. Being in same building is more than enough. I haven't been given dates for the NCC hearing date- I am still waiting and it's taking months. We need to make this happen faster.
In light of the previous question and considering the #metoo movement, do you think the wave of change is here to stay or will it eventually revert back to how it was?
The media coverage has had a huge impact and has shed light on cases. The campaign can have a crucial role In changing the culture if it can get things done. Parliament is working on establishing an internal procedure too which is some progress, but it is late. If we keep campaigning on this issue and consistently talk about it we can have a lasting impact. Talking about it in the media in my experience, has a huge impact in exposing the problems.
Do you think Kelvin Hopkins is the exception of the rule for Labour male MPs or male MPs in general?
Men and Women in Parliament act badly, it's not just restricted to male MPs. There are good and supportive men in Parliament and in the Labour Party and I am grateful for that too.
What are you currently doing to change the status quo?
Campaigning and raising awareness to people, the Labour Party and the media. Also, soon to launch a sexual harassment independent procedure for #labourtoo in partnership with the #labourtoo campaign.
Do you see any significant changes being made for women in the Labour Party in terms of protection and complaints/harassment procedure?
Not yet. The leader should create a policy. The status quo is not fit for purpose for me and others. I'm deeply disappointed in the lack of leadership and the lack of responsibility that's being taken. He says he takes this seriously but he hasn't. There have been other cases reported and it is generally being swept under the carpet- Unlike Theresa May who did well sacking Damian Green. She's at least doing something about it.
If this doesn’t go well for you, I personally would consider leaving the party, more so because I don’t want to be in a space where I don’t feel protected if something were to happen to me or other women. Do you think this is widespread sentiment?
Yes- but leaving is not the answer, we should stay in the Party and fight.
Anything to add?
Message for the Labour Party and it's leadership- practice what you preach.
While campaigns such as the #metoo movement pushes for exposure, liberation and justice for all those involved, it is uncertain whether true justice will be served to the movement and so, ultimately to the general protection of women worldwide. What is certain is though, that as #metoo continues to unravel, more and more women (and men) are at risk of sexual abuse and receiving inadequate support if strict policy and procedures are not put in place. The movement would not go far enough until it resolves the situation by establishing a legally binding structure. That is what Ava is passionately pushing for within the Labour Party.
When I met her, she was warm and genuine. When she spoke about her story and how it was being awfully handled within the party, it was clear that, despite the stress, she was a very strong, inspiring woman. It is a huge credit to her that the has the qualities it would take to push changes women in the Party so desperately need, but this cannot be done without more support, particularly from the Party's own leader. After all, what is leadership if it does not support the injustice unfolding?
Please sign join me in support of Ava and all that she is working for by signing her Petition to establish an Independent Sexual Harassment Complaints Procedure for the Labour Party.