Posts Tagged ‘Waseem Zaffar’

All women shortlists in inner city wards: no dispensation from representation

12/06/2011, 02:00:18 PM

by Waseem Zaffar

Last month, I was elected to Birmingham city council for the first time. A couple of weeks later was the council AGM, at which, amongst other things, we elected a new lord mayor. Councillor Len Gregory handed over to senior Labour councillor, Anita Ward. The whole occasion made me proud to be taking part and proud to be a Brummie. Cllr. Ward will be a fantastic first citizen.

But something about the ceremony also embarrassed me. Made me wonder whether Birmingham is truly the multi-cultural capital that we think it is, whether equality is the strong point that it ought to be. Cllr. Ward is only the seventh female lord mayor of our city. That is a shame and an embarrassment to us all: to the city and to all political parties.

Despite positive discrimination being introduced by Labour years ago, there is still a lack of women in the council chamber.

That can’t be right. We have to have the best people to represent our city. And those that represent our city have to “look” like the city they stand for. For example, Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe outside Turkey and has the largest population of under 30s. However, the council chamber, despite a number of young additions this year, still does not reflect the various age groups in the city.

Gender is also a huge issue for the council chamber. And Cllr. Ward’s elevation to lord mayor of Birmingham has opened up a debate.

We hear conflicting reports from the Birmingham Labour party. The Birmingham Labour party has a grid system which requires all wards to have a minimum of one female councillor/candidate (out of three) every four years. I support this. Yet, a number of largely ethnic minority populated wards have hitherto been excepted from this rule. The argument being that asian communities will not vote for women candidates. I do not agree.

The time has come for us to encourage more women to take part in democracy as, if I am not mistaken, slightly more than half the population of Birmingham and our country is female. And women play a huge role in society that goes largely unrecognised.

This argument that if a woman stands in an inner-city ward in Birmingham made up of largely ethnic minorities she will not win the seat is nonsense. I won by a majority of nearly 4,000 in my inner city ward because I was a Labour candidate. Not because I am male, or because I am of a particular ethnic origin. The election of Cllr. Tony Kennedy in Sparkbrook (white candidate in the ward with possibly the highest ethnic minority population in Birmingham) clearly endorses this argument. Despite what our egos may want to believe, the Labour rose is what puts votes on the ballot paper.

So, if a man can win by a majority of nearly 8,000 in Washwood Heath, I am certain that a woman can win the seat. The same can be said in Aston, Bordesley Green and Springfield, as well as other inner city seats.

It’s time for our ethnic minority communities to “get with the project”, in particular Birmingham’s Muslim community. Just look at what Shabana Mahmood MP, Cllr. Yvonne Mosquito, Cllr. Paulette Hamilton, Cllr. Penny Holbrook et al have achieved. They are role models for young girls growing up in Birmingham, and we need to bring through more role models from to encourage all sections of the community to participate in our democracy.

Shabana’s election to the House of Commons last year was so well received from all sections of the community. We need more “Shabanas”. The Birmingham Labour group is currently chaired by Cllr. Yvonne Mosquito. We need more Yvonnes out in the community engaging with other females and encouraging them to become the “next Yvonne”.

The West Midlands regional office has held a number of training sessions for women who may want to consider standing for election. The Birmingham Labour party needs to follow this through to ensure that no ward in which an AWS is due is denied its entitement under Labour rules to elect a women. There should be no special dispensation from representation.

Waseem Zaffar is Labour councillor for Lozells & East Handsworth ward.

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