The things I learned from organising a hustings on women’s issues

Credit: Bryony Timms

What will the political parties do for women if elected? I had almost no idea, as women’s issues are rarely featured in election campaigns. In March, the Oxford Fawcett Group organised a hustings with local candidates so the parties could tell us. Here are a few things I learned from the evening.

  • Oxford has a much higher than average representation of women in politics: of the parties with MPs, 50% of the candidates in Oxford are women. This must be quite exceptional as nationally only 26% of candidates are women.
  • People are angry. More than 100 people, women and men, came to the hustings – many more than we expected – and the atmosphere in the room was intense. People were standing up and shouting their questions at the candidates, demanding answers to their questions, and making sure their candidates knew they would be held to account. There was no chance that any candidate leaving that room thought that the issues raised could be pushed aside.
  • Candidates that declined to attend made a mistake in thinking that this discussion wasn’t a priority on their agenda. Unfortunately there was no representation from the Conservative Party or from UKIP and this meant that their parties took a lot of blame and derision from the other candidates on the issues that were raised. Audience members expressed disappointment at not being able to put their questions to an elected candidate from the party in government, one that has made decisions that have directly affected women over the past five years.

The candidates answered a broad range of questions thoroughly and thoughtfully: from women’s education, the health and social care act, tax avoidance, public services used by women and the housing crisis to Oxford’s recent sex trafficking nightmare, funding for rape crisis centres and support for the No More Page 3 campaign. I learnt a lot and had plenty to think about before casting my vote.

Overall, I was proud to be a part of an organisation that pushes issues of women and power to the forefront of the debate, giving people across the UK the platform they need to talk about these big, infuriating issues. We’ll definitely be doing this again for the next election.

The panel from left to right:

Larry Sanders, Green Party candidate Oxford West & Abingdon
Ann Duncan, Green Party candidate Oxford East
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat Party candidate Oxford West & Abingdon
Sally Copley, Labour Party candidate Oxford West & Abingdon
Andrew Smith MP, Labour Party Oxford East
Chaired by Dr Ruth Percy at Ruskin College, where the event took place

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Bryony Timms
Bryony Timms is coordinator of the Oxford Fawcett group, research manager at Oxfam GB, and lifelong feminist.