16 JUNE 2017
By Amy Fowler, External Relations at Ada National College for Digital Skills

I learned long ago that political engagement is the path to change and that you can’t rely on other people to do it; you have to be part of it.

The day after President Trump was elected, five months after the Brexit decision, I picked up my abandoned application for the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, finished it, and sent it. I wasn’t sure the Programme was for me. I’d spent more than ten years working in and around Labour politics, eight from Labour HQ, and I’d always been happy standing behind politicians. I was uncomfortable about the idea of applying for a programme designed to encourage women into politics. The spectacle of it, the audacity of putting myself forward, rankled. The election was the push I needed.

I expected the women on the course to be impressive and I wasn’t wrong. What I didn’t expect was how the course would change us. The training has pushed us out of our comfort zones and asked us to view ourselves, our work and our world in a way we were unused to. It asks a lot of us, but gives us the tools to deliver. It has challenged us to know that we aren’t pushy, gobby women; we are articulate, persistent and can change the world.

This isn’t blind optimism, we are only too aware of the challenges both within the Labour Party and the country, but we are resolute.

The public success stories are easy to see. We haven’t even finished the programme and our cohort already includes two newly elected MPs, seven other General Election candidates, three new councillors, multiple promotions within councils, numerous prominent campaign roles and advancement outside of politics.

The personal success stories are less apparent but no less important. We knew we would receive support and advice from Labour legends like Nan Sloane, Harriet Harman and many others. I expected stimulating mentorship and I’ve gotten it; what I didn’t expect was that so much of that mentorship would come from within the group.

Everyone knows the stereotypes of ambitious, talented women: catty, jealous and unable to get along with other women. It is a lie told and retold to keep women from being more than that. It’s a lie we tell ourselves and a lie the world tells us. Turns out as long as we are concentrating on being catty or not, we are not progressing. We are not uplifting others and we are not doing ourselves justice.

In this programme I have found a group of women who are not ‘bloody difficult’, but bloody inspiring. We come from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, and at a time when division within the Labour Party has been part of the national zeitgeist, it’s important to note that we also span the spectrum within progressive politics.

But we share a belief: a belief in the power of people to affect change; belief in hard work to get there; belief in ourselves; belief in each other. To use a now well-used phrase, a belief that we have more in common than that which divides us.

“Be good feminists and be good to each other”: this was our directive from Kirsty McNeill, a board member of the Jo Cox Foundation and a personal friend of Jo’s, on our first training day. These mighty women live up to that aspiration every day and in doing so honour the legacy of Jo Cox.

Alison McGovern MP said that being supported by Jo was “like having one arm wrapped around your shoulder and the other one pushing you forward.” Each and every woman on this course embodies that ideal. We are simultaneously the supporters and the supported and it is working. These women have big ideas about how to change the Party and the country and the determination to pull it off. I would hand them the keys to Number 10 today if I could.

What is most significant to me is that this is by no means a one off. It is not a fluke that impressive women want to support each other, want to share their successes and struggles. If you are looking for a way to honour Jo Cox this weekend you don’t have to get into politics, you don’t have to apply for the next cohort of the Programme – though I heartily recommend it! Look at yourself and the women in your life and remind yourself to be a good feminist and be good to each other. You won’t regret it.

Amy FowlerAbout author

Amy works in the skills sector with Collab Group and will shortly be starting a position with Ada National College for Digital Skills. She is a trustee of Icon Theatre and Wise Dolls and spent many years at Labour Party Head Office.