Come on Labour, happy to back women’s football and the brilliant Lionesses but still denying Labour Women’s Declaration a stall at conference? Women are watching

by Joanne Harding

On Sunday afternoon I had the absolute privilege of attending the Women’s Euro final at Wembley Stadium. As the Executive Member for Culture & Leisure in Trafford, I was incredibly proud to host the opening match at Old Trafford and watch the amazing journey of the Lionesses unfold. The atmosphere during the final was one of hope, anticipation but most importantly one of friendship, vitality and really wanting the women to win.

I watched, with my heart in my mouth as we entered extra time; but I was also caught off guard a few times feeling very close to tears. Bursting with pride at what these women had achieved so far, thinking about the message they were sending out to women and girls everywhere. The final whistle couldn’t come quick enough and, when it did, the stadium erupted.

Walking back to the tube, the image that stuck with me was of a father walking ahead of me, his two daughters, probably about 7 and 8, draped in the Three Lions flags. I asked the girls if they had enjoyed the game. Their little faces lit up and they were telling me how much they had loved it. Interestingly, the dad was a little blunter with his observations. He recounted his experience of watching the England V Italy match in 2021, “I couldn’t have taken the girls anywhere near that match, men drunk, shouting and swearing. This has been totally different, a real family atmosphere”

Those little girls saw women winning and I want them to hang on to that. That dad witnessed the differences between the way that men and women behave; and, in a world where we are battling to end violence against women and girls, I want him to hang on to that. I want them to be part of the change we want to see for women and girls, not only in sport but in wider society.

During the very long train journey home, I of course took to Twitter. I saw the Starmer tweet congratulating the England team and I saw the responses. Not, in my opinion, wholly unfair responses either.

“What is a woman?”, “What is a girl?”, “Protect women’s sports.”

Women have been trying to talk to Labour about the issues they face in society for a couple of years now, they still don’t feel they are being listened to. In fact it’s the opposite, they feel they are being silenced and Labour continues to tie itself in knots.

Labour Women’s Declaration simply want a stall at  Labour Party Conference, the party with the proud tradition of anti-racist and anti- sexist campaigning is denying them this, and it’s become a battleground that will not do the Labour Party any favours. I have no doubt again at this year’s conference in Liverpool, women will once again be forced to meet in secret, to discuss women’s safety, you really couldn’t make this up. Are Labour so afraid of women having a voice?

You can’t silence and stop women. The Suffragettes, The Lionesses, the #MeToo movement, they fought, they won; but it shouldn’t be a fight between Labour and women. WE are the party who should be working with and for women; and yet here we are, left wanting.

The final whistle for me on Sunday, was not simply about The Lionesses lifting the cup (though this really was the icing on the cake). It represented so much more than that.

It was symbolic of women fighting back, deserving respect and setting the tone for future generations. Women’s football has been battling for years to be valued, in the same way as the “beautiful game” is heralded for men. One of the best banners in the stadium said “Women play football, #notwomensfootball”.

Now, the country is full of pride; and rightly so at the richly deserved victory.  A legacy I am determined to build on in the communities I represent as a Councillor.

Labour must now reflect. Women don’t just want well meaning, congratulatory tweets. They want action. In the recent Green Paper published by Labour, reference is made to a set of brilliant policies across education, police and CPS, victims and courts, where “good intentions must be backed up by effective action”.

Let’s start with one critical policy action: listen and engage with women. Don’t shut us down.

I felt like I was part of history on Sunday evening, and I don’t know about you but I want a whole future generation of Lionesses. Across sport, business, science, politics, engineering, the art of the possible for women and girls.

I want Labour to be the government that leads on this. But we need deeds, not words.

Joanne Harding is a councillor in Trafford, Greater Manchester – Executive Member for Culture and Leisure

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