Labour-party activist Bex Bailey, 25, has served on the party’s National Executive Committee. Last October, she revealed that she was raped at a Labour party event in 2011, aged 19, by someone senior to her, but was discouraged from reporting the attack by a Labour official
I was motivated to speak out about the sexist culture at the heart of politics because of my own experiences of sexual harassment, and the efforts made to silence me from telling my story and exposing the culture of abuse.
So many women keep quiet, scared of the backlash, concerned they will be seen as liars, terrified of being penalised in their careers or victimised on social media. And, to be frank, I don’t blame them. But, for me, it felt right to speak out.
I was so frustrated at the abuse that exists at all levels – and all parties – not just in parliament but in councils and local parties too, where women are still in the minority. It’s only when we accept how widespread this problem is, and its impact on women’s ability to just get on and do their work, that we can begin to genuinely tackle the issue and create lasting change.
What I’m calling for is real change. Right now. It’s time for action. We need an independent complaints process in every party at every level, which would give women the confidence to come forward and report abuse. It would also mean they don’t have to worry about the fact that the people investigating their claims could be allies of the men they are making allegations against. Sexual harassment comes down to an attempt to exert power over someone. If you have the power, you can behave with impunity.
I’m tired of hoping that things will get better. Women who are brave enough to come forward and say ‘It’s not my job‘ must be supported and enabled to do so without fear. The wider culture also needs to change for women who decide to make politics their career.
Only by having more women in politics, at the top of politics, can we alter the perception of them as sex objects. This means real changes in the working culture, too. We need shared parental leave, which encourages men to halve the load of child-rearing, and support for women who choose motherhood alongside their political career. I know women who have been told to forget the idea of a political career if they want or have children. They should be respected for their skills and talents.
But female candidates with children face questions about their ability to do the role, while those without are told they can’t empathise. Yet for men it’s not an issue. It’s time that women were supported to build careers and allowed to just get on with their jobs without fear of discrimination and harassment. Only then can we have a government that is reflective of our wider society.