Gendering the Green leadership campaign

Putting together blog posts has felt a little more difficult in recent weeks. For the aspiring Green blogger, this period is probably one of the most interesting times in which to be writing: we are taking a step into the dark and selecting a new leadership team to take forward our agenda over potentially the next four years or so. At the very least, this team will be fronting us at the next General Election.

Even though a few more days remain for candidates to be announce themselves to the membership, the individuals who have come forward represent some of the most promising of the next generation for the party and I’m genuinely hopeful that we will have a closely-fought contest that gives an honest insight into the current ideological soul of the Green Party.

I’m struggling a little to write as regularly, because I am actively working on the campaign for Alex Phillips to become Deputy Leader. Declaring an interest in the competition has left me in the position of feeling that anything I write over the next three months might be seen through a rather partisan lens. It may well be true on occasion, although I’ll try to look beyond it and concentrate on what I perceive as best for the party.  So I guess I’m posting that caveat up front and hope that you’ll forgive me for taking a particular position in the near future.

One of the most fascinating issues that has already caused some consternation has been the dominance of female candidates – and the sudden realisation by many that rules set up to ensure equal representation for women may suddenly mitigate against making space for electing the best women. For those unaware of our current rules, we introduced a mechanism to ensure gender parity in the top team of Leader and Deputy Leader, put in place as part of the Green Party’s commitment to encouraging greater women’s representation in politics. Depending on the gender of the newly-elected Leader, the Deputy must be the opposite gender.

At the time of writing, we have more female candidates for Leader than men, alongside only female candidates for Deputy. Consequently, we may be in the paradoxical position that if a woman wins the Leadership, we may not be able to elect one of the strong female candidates for Deputy. The rules appear unclear as to whether a further election might be needed if no men step forward.  Worse, we may be in the position of having a female candidate with a clear majority of the vote (say 60%), but the need to place a male candidate in the role could mean someone commanding minimal support (such as 15%) across the membership is elected instead.

Unfortunately, we are too far along the process for us to make a change to this election, so we may have to live with the consequences of this well-meant but flawed process. Whilst there is always the potential for political parties to slip backwards, we currently have a cadre of strong female politicians at the upper reaches of the Green Party. As a feminist, I am strongly wedded to increasing representation of female politicians, but I will be supporting the inevitable motion to conference asking for this rule to be repealed next year, provided it is coupled with a strategic plan to address barriers to access for women and under-represented groups and discernable financial resources are made available to deliver on this.

This policy is the organisational equivalent of a last chance saloon to ensure against slippage in our aspirations towards gender parity. Instead, I want us to fight for permanent cultural and organisational shifts in how we nurture the ambition of our activists, especially women, who traditionally carry a much higher burden of informal care and work that can prevent them being as engaged as they might wish.

I hope that this is an issue that all the candidates will consider reflecting upon as part of their campaigns and that they will formally answer how they would achieve this.


26 thoughts on “Gendering the Green leadership campaign

  1. “Well-meant but flawed” is an excellent way to describe the situation. What might exacerbate it is, if the hypothetical 15%-backed gentleman was admitted to office because of our rules, he then proceeded to do a bad job. I’m probably not the only person who feels that having two people of the same gender (whatever that might be) at the top, who can excel in those positions, is better than having a weak person in one of those positions simply to fit a demographic template.

    The fact that we have so many female candidates in this election is, however, promising. I think it shows that we can give opportunities for women, and suggests that they feel empowered to try to take those opportunities. If we look at the last Labour Leadership election, only one of the five candidates was a woman. I don’t think I’ve seen a female candidate for the Conservative leadership since Thatcher (but please correct me if my memory errs). Constitutionally, both parties will allow women the opportunity to put themselves forward for election, but I wonder how many are put off by the thought that the male-dominated party will probably vote male – or that, if they’re the only woman in the leadership race, it’d be considered mere tokenism (as happened to Diane Abbott, whatever her merits may have been).

    That doesn’t seem to be happening here, though. Our party has always seemed more diverse, and our membership more willing to vote for people on merit – though the very fact that we have these gender-balancing rules suggests that it might not entirely be the case.

    On a different tack, though, and I apologise if I’m opening any cans of worms that might have caused havoc when the rules were introduced, I wonder how this policy relates to intersex or transsexuals? I would assume that, if a person has been born male, but has had gender re-assignment, for the purposes of this policy, that person would be female. But Intersex people are, I suspect, not as easy to pigeon-hole, and I do wonder if these rules would ever prevent an intersex person from becoming a candidate, especially given the attention that it would draw.

    • I hear what you are saying, but I think the truth is not whether or not women are able to participate in putting themselves forward for consideration, but the barriers that might stand in their way or be disincentives for committing to all that a serious run at the job might entail. Regularly, you hear that female members are unable to take part consistently in attending meetings for local parties due to an inability to obtain child care, as one obvious example. I think we need to think smarter about what we can do to broaden the ability for all members to participate.

      On the intersex question, I concur with Doug that the current rules would probably not affect the ability of an intersex candidate to be considered, although it is sufficiently muddy that I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Again, I would argue that cleaving to a simplistic gender binary doesn’t suit the realities of where we are as a party any longer.

  2. Whilst it’s notable that there are a good number of female candidates in the leadership election, that’s not to say that the party can claim success in this area – and whilst Labour is perhaps not as strong at the leadership level (and in the Labour party the leader is much more than it is in GPEW) they are doing more, and succeeding in terms of gender representation at local council level – very few of our councillors are female – something like 1 in 5 – and there isn’t concerted action to deal with this. Labour has all women shortlists, this has pulled up the proportion of women council candidates – but most strikingly, it has pulled up the number of overall council seats won – not only is gender diversity good in and of itself, it seems to have electoral benefits as well.

    In terms of an intersex candidate for deputy leader – strictly by the rules, there is nothing to stop them standing, and looking at the wording of the rules would suggest that whilst male and female candidates for deputy would be removed before the count (based on the gender of the leader), an intersex candidate wouldn’t be removed no matter what the sex of the winning leader candidate.

  3. Caroline Lucas said, at the hustings in Birmingham in Autumn 2010, that she herself felt the rule should be that ‘at least one of the leader and deputy leader should be female’, i.e. you could have both posts occupied by women. I agree. With women vastly outnumbered by men in British politics – hence women-only shortlists (which, I might add, the Green Party hasn’t followed Labour on, sadly), we need to do everything we can to promote women in politics. We are a feminist party, after all.

    • I’m with you on this one Sarah. I’d strenuously disagree with the view I’ve heard from in the last couple of days (interestingly or not, men) who want to retain the status quo as it currently stands. The barriers and discrimination women face make it doubly impressive that we have such a rich group of female candidates running. A shame that on this occasion, some members might have to tactically vote.

  4. We still have a problem (even after having a female leader and so many strong female candidates in this election) that too many people in high positions within the party are male. I wouldn’t fear it in this election, but i think it’s important to make sure that we don’t have a situation where both leader and deputy are male. I agree that the current system is flawed, and must put some candidates off standing for deputy if they know their time and energy will be wasted if the person elected (or runs as frontrunner in the campaign) as leader is the same gender.

    When Caroline stood to be the first leader without serious opposition, half of our membership were then pretty much excluded from the deputy race. Who knows what vision or ideas they could have brought to the table.

    So i think we need a system where at least one of the two must be female, so that if the leader elected is male, then all female candidates compete, and if the leader is female, then everyone still has a chance. Nobody is then put off from standing and running a worthwhile campaign, but also doesn’t require candidates to conform to gender binary.

    Another idea may be to hold these elections in stages, instead of at the same time, so we don’t have a situation where a deputy candidate spends a lot of time and money campaigning, only to be excluded before the votes are counted because of their gender.

    In a way i wish some of the declared candidates had run for BOTH leader and deputy.

    • Stuart, I think your example of the disenfranchising of potential female Deputy Leader candidates during Caroline’s re-election bid is a really good example of how this policy has been counterproductive. Your suggestion of a staged election is interesting and coupled with F/M or F/F as potential leadership combinations, could be worth looking into. The one downside to conducting them separately might the cost, but the advantage would also be that by having overlapping leadership teams, we have more of a regular say in the leadership of the party and have some continuity at the top.

  5. I think the system for this election is a classic situation of trying to come up with a compromise that wouldn’t upset too many people and ending up with something that doesn’t really please anyone.
    I am of course very pleased to see that there are so any female candidates for the leadership positions, but this must not allow a feeling of complacency to develop with regard to gender equality in the party.
    Having been involved in Green Party Women and also Women By Name (a group I describe as ‘getting women into politics’) within the party for several years, I have spent a lot of time talking to women around the country. It is clear that there are still many barriers to women getting involved at all levels, these barriers are not unique to the Green Party and there has been work to try and address these, but there is still a lot to do. Your example of child care and meetings is one that often comes up. Also I think women do tend to worry more about whether they will be able to juggle all their other responsibilities if they become a councillor. It will also be interesting to see how the gender balance of the lead Euro candidates comes out, I do hope we won’t see backwards steps there.
    My experience is that most Green women are brilliant at supporting other women, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be standing now if in the past I hadn’t been encouraged to stand for my first elections by women; in particular Jenny Jones, Jean Lambert and Natalie Bennett. I hope that I encourage women in the same way myself now. But we need to ensure these support networks are present across the country and that women know who to ask if they are having issues in their local party.
    In terms of the very specific issue of this election I do hope that people will just vote for the best people rather than tactically. I’m sure there will be calls for a change in system for next time. I would support a system that says we need at least one women in the leadership team, rather than getting rid of gender balance rules at all. As I said we can’t be complacent on this issue.

  6. The leadership elections in Wales differ in that the person gaining most votes becomes leader, and the next person of the opposite sex gaining the most votes, becomes deputy. There is one voting paper only, which essentially means that all nominees are potential leaders. It is not a perfect system, but such a system has not yet been devised.

    I am glad to see that the subject is under scrutiny, because I do believe that the GP – whether in England or Wales, had done a remarkable job of boosting the confidence of women, and that in it’s turn this has had a good effect on the culture of the party.

    If you look around at industry, it is clear that women are massively under represented, (according to the Fawcett Society women have to go another 210 years before equality is reached, if we proceed at the current rate) as are other political parties, and one can only conclude that the work has not yet been done. However, our next job is to prove that a gender balanced leadership is successful. So far we have done OK, but I truly believe that there is long way to go before we can say we’ve cracked it.

    I am fortunate to have a supportive family, and without it my work would be almost impossible. Women, whilst often seen in the ubiquitous supportive role, need to be supported themselves – morally and practically – if they are to have a high level career which is not based on a huge salary.

    I believe we have to keep the conversation going. We need the Green Man and the Green Woman, the Yin and the Yang, the balanced opinion for the better outcome. Leader and Deputy Leader must be more than titles, they should be a solid, interchangeable working partnership.

  7. I personally think that we are not yet anywhere near being able to drop the gender rule. It is working Nationally. In the West Mids we have not got such a rule and we have very few female Councillors and neither of the top two EURO candidates is female. It is not because we don’t have able women but that they are reluctant to put themselves forward. We need zipping here to ensure we get the good females to stand.
    If you have a specific axe to grind for these elections then I’m afraid it’s too late.

  8. I think it’s also worth noting the number of formidable potential female candidates who ruled themselves out of the contest – Jenny Jones, Maya de Souza and Jean Lambert among them.

    My main concern is that positive discrimination risks masking underlying issues. If the Green Party was committed in deed as well as in word to addressing every instance of under-representation then no affirmative action would be needed. We could remove gender balance requirements in the knowledge that over a period of years we’d get something like balance through the broadly even distribution of talents between the genders.

    However the ‘at least one of the leader/deputy to be female’ idea could have unforseen consequences not least that it makes every man in the party look like someone who is prepared to accept an inequitable solution that no woman would accept, in any party, if the situation were reversed. The basic principle of human rights is that they accrue to us through our very humanity and nothing can take that away. Once you start institutionalising gender discrimination you weaken your ability to stand against other forms of discrimination.

    Personally the sheer number of talented women in the Green Party leaves me less worried about gender balance than the under-representation of people from ethnic minorities, with disabilities and LBGTA orientations.

    I’d rather we never stop being deeply concerned about any under-represented group, proactive in our entreaties to get involved and generous in our encouragement for them to take an active and a leading role.

    For instance while there are a few Greens of South Asian heritage there are almost none of African or East Asian heritage. That should be a far bigger issue than it seems to be at present.

  9. I think I shoud retract “that it makes every man in the party look like someone who is prepared to accept an inequitable solution that no woman would accept, in any party, if the situation were reversed”. That was badly phrased. Actually it simply makes us as a party look like one that is prepared to institutionalise an inequitable situation. We should be an egalitarian party of human beings, full stop. If outcomes don’t reflect our wider community we should recognise that and act mindfully. One might even argue that having had a female leader and two female MEPs has made it easier for us to ignore the gender imbalance amongst Green councillors.

  10. I certainly think it’s worth looking at the idea of saying that at least one of the leader & deputy should be female. No system is ever going to be perfect but we should at least have the debate.

    GPEx has often been male dominated and the possibility of f/f leader and deputy, who are voting members of GPEx, could help redress that situation should it reoccur.

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  12. In short I think that we need a policy which says that at least one of the Leadership posts should be held by a woman. That would prevent us from having two men in the Leadership team, but would allow two women. I have spoken to many members up and down the country about this issue, and that is what the majority have recommended. It is a shame that this rule cannot be changed for this time but after engaging with so many members (and I am incredibly proud to be part of a Party which has so many men who are feminists), I am very hopeful that it will for future Leadership elections.

    And for those people who are still sceptical about positive discrimination or assertive action or whatever one might like to call it, the raw facts are that almost a century after women won the vote, they are outnumbered 4 to 1 by men in parliament. At the current rate of progress, a child born today will be drawing her pension before she has an equal vote in the government of her country. In an ideal world men and women would be equal, but unfortunately we are not in an ideal world. Assertive action does go some way in addressing this imbalance, as we have seen from Labour and their All Women Shortlists. And experience has shown that quotas do not have to lead to poorer quality candidates. Norway called on firms to have 40% representation of women on their boards, and contrary to expectations of there being a shortage of suitable candidates, there was a wealth of high-quality female applicants.

    However, we also need to provide more support and encouragement for women to join the party, become active, stand for elections and get elected. For those women who are still the main child rearer, this may be in the form of providing a creche or having meetings at a range of times so that they can be included. I do think Caroline Lucas has done a great job in being a role model for women. I have had the privilege to work with her closely (both in Brussels and more recently in Brighton where I co-ordinated her successful Pavilion campaign) and it has been by getting to know her well and through her amazing work, that she has nurtured me. I probably would not have stood for elections (both internally and externally) if it had not been for her.

    Interestingly our Policy Co-ordinator on Brighton and Hove Green Party brought a paper on gender balance to our last General Meeting, in June. After some discussion, one new member said in defence of gender balance, that women are not a minority group, and so let’s deal with that imbalance first. I couldn’t agree with her more. The South East regional MEP list was not zipped (equal numbers of men and women are put forward eg. F-M-F-M-F-M), and without zipping I was placed second on that list. However, it was interesting to see how the voting played out. Taking just the first preference votes, women did better and were higher up the list. When the second, third, fourth preferences etc. were taken into account, three of the men went up by usually one place, but on one occasion by two places. This meant that three women were bumped down places, and so are not as high on the list as they could have been, if zipping were used. The top three places did not change when the different preferences were taken into account.

    The question for me is: where are women in politics and what can we, as Greens, do about it?

    Implementing zipping, quotas and all-women shortlists are a must, but also are internal and external policies that encourage women to get involved in politics at a grassroots level, which in turn can lead to putting themselves forward as candidates in winnable seats. As we know, when women do put themselves up for election, they are more electable than men, so it’s about supporting and encouraging women to put themselves up for election in the first place!

    Here’s the link to a Press Release I wrote on the topic, around this time last year:

    Cllr Alexandra Phillips

    Brighton and Hove Green Group of Councillors Spokesperson on Women 2010-2011

  13. Thanks to Caroline Allen for highlighting Saturday’s Women by Name day in Cambridge – it isn’t too late to book! (Members and prospective female members welcome: )
    The United Kingdom is currently ranked equal 55th in the world with the number of women in parliament: And there are only four women in Cameron’s 23-strong Cabinet. By contact they’re half of Sweden and France’s Cabinet and 38% of Germany’s.
    Anything resembling political equality in Britain is a long way off.
    The Green Party tops (if only just) most lists for percentage of female candidates for Westminster and council elections, but that still meant only 32% in the last Westminster election.
    Whilst in this particular leadership election the women may outnumber the men, there’s no guarantee that will be the case next time.
    I think that we do need to change the rule to “a minimum of one woman” – we will after all still be leaving it to the voters to see if they do decide that want a female leader and deputy, or two female co-leaders. Imagine the last example – it would certainly make us look different to any other British political party.
    And addressing outside elections, can I encourage Green Party members to support motion D06 (Improving the Gender Balance of Candidates for PR and General Elections) in the first agenda ballot (which closes July 16). Details on the members’ website:

  14. Reblogged this on The Creative Crip and commented:
    “I’m probably not the only person who feels that having two people of the same gender (whatever that might be) at the top, who can excel in those positions, is better than having a weak person in one of those positions simply to fit a demographic template.” ~ a comment I wholeheartedly agree with.

  15. Interesting to see a form of consensus building around a rule change. It would be equally refreshing if a motion was brought to the next conference that the policy timetable permits – and possibly in the name of all leadership candidates – asking for the rule change.

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  17. Very thoughtful post, which I generally agreed with, but I am rather alarmed to see how many people are suggesting that we abandon gender balance in favour of a system which actively discriminates against men. I am conscious that I don’t want to sound disrespectful to the people who have posted, but I do wish to emphasise how horrified I am to hear this being proposed.

    One poster thinks ‘it’s important to make sure that we don’t have a situation where both leader and deputy are male’. Why? It is more important to make sure that we select the best two candidates without prejudice or discrimination. If they happen to be men, why is this an inherently bad thing? Because men are inferior, or because it will put voters off? Do you not think that having a selection system which says ‘we can have two women but we don’t want two men’ might put voters off? We can’t keep that bit secret – the public will know. Seriously, if a majority of party activists really think that this would actually have a positive effect on the party’s public image, then we are spending too much time talking amongst ourselves and not much time talking to the wider public. Many people have doubts about the principle of gender balance, but at least it is a commitment to balance and equality. There would be no such defence for explicit preference for women. It’s a sure-fire vote loser.

    Of course, sometimes we should do something because of our principles, even if it would be unpopular. However, last time I looked at our core values, it said that we were committed to a society ‘free from discrimination whether based on race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social origin or any other prejudice’. You may feel you are proposing this for the noblest of motives, but discrimination is discrimination.

    I agree with the earlier comment (although it was retracted) that ‘it makes every man in the party look like someone who is prepared to accept an inequitable solution that no woman would accept, in any party, if the situation were reversed’. It makes me feel like we would be saying that men are second-class. It is not an inequity I would be prepared to accept.

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