On Saturday at Labour women’s conference I delivered my first major speech since being appointed as shadow minister for women and equalities this month. I spoke about the relationship between all forms of discrimination and how if we as the Labour Party, and as women, do not stand up to such injustices, we have let down our principles and values.
I have a personal mantra that I like to repeat; equality is equality, you can’t pick or choose. You cannot fight a cause for one group in society just to stand idly by in ignorance to another’s plight. Which is why only together will we succeed in making a society that is fair and equal.
In my life I have had to fight tirelessly to get where I am today. Fighting discrimination as a black, working class female working in male dominated industries hasn’t been easy. From my time as a computer programmer to now as an MP, I have faced discrimination at every corner. What drives me is ridding this discrimination in our society, so that those following close behind me will not face the same obstacles that I did.
I joined Labour because my parents told me that Labour made them feel welcomed when they arrived in England from Jamaica. I must admit I didn’t understand why my dad was so angry at Margaret Thatcher the milk snatcher because I hated drinking that warm milk. But my dad sat me down and explained it wasn’t about me. It was about all of the other children who couldn’t afford milk or breakfast in the mornings. And I got it! Social justice. And years later the trade union movement taught me that united we stand, divided we fall.
People laugh when I tell them the late Mary Turner, the phenomenal GMB national president and former dinner lady, taught me how to hold my drink. But it’s the deeper lesson of not letting anyone take advantage of you that is truth of the lesson. And to beat them at their own game.
Yet sadly progress has stalled for women and people of protected characteristics under this current government. Yes, we may have a female prime minister but her words have not led to actions. Theresa May is no friend of women. Cuts have fallen on the shoulders of women and especially black and asian women, according to research undertaken by the Runnymeade Trust and Women’s Budget Group.
We need a prime minister who cares enough to start laying those foundations in which we can bring about true equality for women, diverse communities, LGBT communities and many more persecuted groups in society.
A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would do just that. With pledges to reverse the devastating Tory austerity measures and tackle specific issues such as period poverty, he and our party have been shown to be the true friends of women.
In my conference speech I was proud to announce Labour’s period poverty policy. I recently watched a documentary on how homeless women cope once a month whilst on their periods. It saddened me. There are so many organisations and individuals helping women and being a friend of women. Monica Lennon MSP has tabled a fantastic bill and our bill will be very similar. Together in our lifetime we will eradicate period poverty.
I also outlined my focus on tackling intersectionality. This is where different layers of discrimination interact with one another. As said before, I have faced discrimination on a number of levels and in the same way that a disabled woman or a working class gay man would have both faced double discrimination. We must recognise one another’s struggle and champion the fight together.
It is intersectionality and diversity that allow us to view the world through different lenses and points of views. The more diverse our boardrooms, government and positions of leadership become, the more knowledge it will bring to the table to shape a better fairer society.
The Labour Party has always been committed to working together on equality and diversity and I’m proud of our record when in government. I now look forward, as the new shadow minister for women and equalities, to build on Labour’s record on equality. Labour has a track record on equality and the next Labour government will tackle all forms of injustice and build bridges to overcome adversity for a fairer Britain for the many and not the few.
This article was originally published on 27 September 2017 in the Times.