Our Women’s Officer and Young European Socialists Feminist Co-ordinator, Tina Bhartwas, reports back from the recent #ProgressivesSpeakUp School for Young Elected Politicians in Valencia.
I recently has the pleasure of attending the #ProgressivesSpeakUp School for Young Elected Politicians in Valencia, with the Party of European Socialists (PES) and Young European Socialists (YES). The topic for this year's discussion was tackling gender inequality and violence against women, a topic close to my heart and one that brought me into politics in the first place.
I was delighted to be able to facilitate an in person Feminist Network Meeting in my role as YES Feminist Network Co-ordinator, at the beautiful Palacio de la Exposición, and as a young elected politician myself to explore the topic of women's political participation.
We were honoured to have introductory remarks at our meeting delivered by the PES Women President Zita Gurmai and YES General Secretary Ana Pirtskhalava. Zita Gurmai’s remarks were a powerful rallying cry to women everywhere to get involved and help to collectively shape a progressive future. She emphasised the importance of inter-generational dialogue to improve youth participation in politics, the challenges women continue to face to get and keep a seat at the table and the double burden faced by younger women. These were followed by Ana Pirtskhalava’s encouragement for young women to get involved as activists through YES and our commitment to engaging, supporting and developing young women in politics
This was followed by a panel on the topic of ‘Improving Women's Participation in Politics and Decision-Making’ in a partnership of YES, PES Women and the PES Committee of Regions (PES CoR). We were delighted to have a star-studded panel with such a breadth of experience - Alicia Homs Ginel, Member of European Parliament and YES President, Katarina Barley, PES Executive-Vice President and Vice-President of the European Parliament and PES CoR President Vasco Alves Cordeiro.
We heard from Alicia Homs Ginel as a young elected politician in the EU Parliament about the importance of representation at all levels of government. “We need young people and women represented at all levels in politics. If they don’t give us the space, we need to fight to have the space”. She shared the challenges she has faced as a young woman in politics to be taken seriously and to be treated as an equal to her male counterparts.
This was followed by powerful words from Katarina Barley, who got involved in politics at a young age but did not see herself running for public office. She spoke about facing obstacles, both external and internal to herself, specifically highlighting how often women doubt themselves. We joked about having a messy house as women in politics but the point she made is a vital one - that we need to make sure as women we are investing our time in our passions and not societal expectations and about the many draws on our time as women that mean politics is less accessible such as children and caring responsibilities. On the subject of opening up politics Katarina Barley stated we must support each other as women - when we judge each other, we undermine the whole movement - and support networks could not be more crucial to engaging and retaining women in politics.
Lastly we heard from President Vasco Alves Cordeiro on how we can get to our common goal to reach equal representation for women in politics. He highlighted the need for action in places in Europe where women's representation is very low and shared the example of quotas in Portugal where electoral law states that candidate lists “shall be drawn up in a way that ensures parity between men and women." and “parity shall mean a minimum representation of 40% of each sex, rounded, where appropriate, to the nearest unit. In order to comply with the provisions of the foregoing paragraph, lists shall not include more than two consecutive candidates of the same sex."
After the panel there was an opportunity for participants to ask questions and to reflect on how they can be more involved in politics and support women to participate in politics. This led to a real buzz of discussion that lasted beyond the session. The commitment to our common goal and determination to achieve it was clear.
It was a privilege to be in a space with fellow progressive women sharing our experiences as current and future local and regional leaders. One participant told us of how a male colleague had essentially told her to not stand for public office because she was ‘the kind of woman that takes up too much space’ and others shared experiences of having been asked a whole plethora of invasive personal questions in their political lives. Participants also shared how they have got through difficult times by having networks of women, self-care and giving back to other women.
I found this school for young local and regional leaders transformational and inspirational - running this panel on women's political participation, attending workshops on gender equality and launching the PES CoR and PES Women #SafePlace4Women campaign with our political family. And have returned feeling recharged, energised and more ready than ever to take up the mantle for our progressive agenda.
I will leave you with a message from our outgoing PES Women President Zita Gurmai - the destiny of women is at stake in the elections to come. So join our movement and get involved!
Tina Bhartwas is Women’s Officer of the Young Fabians, Feminist Network Co-ordinator for the Young European Socialists and 50:50 Parliament Ambassador. Tina is a Labour and Co-operative County Councillor in Hertfordshire, having been elected as the youngest ever Councillor for that authority at the age of 19 and is currently completing her Politics and International Relations degree at Queen Mary, University of London. Tina tweets @TinaBhartwas.