Shadow scheme to entice more female politicians to stand

By Ione Wells
BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Fifteen years ago, the Welsh assembly was heralded as the first legislature in the world to have achieved a 50:50 gender balance.

In 2003 an equal number of men and women were elected as assembly members.

But in recent years, more men have taken up political roles in the assembly as the number of women standing at elections fell.

Now a shadowing scheme has been set up by equalities charity Chwarae Teg for young women to get an insight into life at the assembly in an attempt to halt the decline of female politicians.

Here three AMs tell why they are opening up their working lives to scrutiny to help encourage more women into politics.

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"If we want to really change society and get rid of sexist attitudes and the way some men feel they can treat some women we need equal representation", Sian Gwenllian said.

Sian Gwenllian AM, Plaid Cymru

"We need to get more women involved at all levels, not just the assembly - councils too. That is the way we are going to change attitudes."

Ms Gwenllian said that practical barriers such as a lack of proper childcare and flexible working hours were also to blame for women not entering politics but for those policies to be addressed we need "more women in the decision making process."

"The commission has been looking at electoral reform and has recommended 50:50 equality of candidates, a legal requirement for parties to put up equal numbers of men and women. Without definite mechanisms that work it's not going to happen."

She added that there was equal representation in the assembly in 1999 but "parties themselves have let things slip."

"The positive aspect of exposing harassment at Westminster is that women are fighting back, we need to come together."

"I'm 60 now, I've had enough over the last 40 years. I've been aware of sexism and harassment in all walks of life. Enough is enough."

Ms Gwenllian said women should not be deterred by such scandals but use it as an incentive to take part and make change.

She praised the legal action Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood took after being subjected to online abuse .

"We need to be challenging that at every occasion. Social media companies have a responsibility."

"Trump has made misogyny acceptable again, and people are following. There is a need for political leaders to set an example. It is a job for men too."

After being shadowed she added: "I would be happy to do follow up work as well. We're in the process of setting up a Plaid women's group in my constituency, for women to take part in community life, community councils and organisations."

"There is a lot of support for women who show an interest and get in touch."

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David Rees said it should not just be women encouraging other women to go into politics

David Rees AM, Labour

"It's a shame we have to do this," David Rees said.

"When you see the behaviours of some people in politics it puts you off. But we are not all the same in all institutions, people tend to brand politicians with the same brush.

"Bad politicians over the last few years have woken people up.

"We've got to take the stigma that some people have about this [politics] away. There is a move amongst politicians to do this... We as a party hope to encourage 50:50 in the cabinet.

"I'm a male doing this... It's not just women who should be encouraging women.

"This scheme is all about encouraging people to think you can do this, and make people understand what we do.

"I think the assembly culture is reasonably fair, I don't see the experiences being aggressive.

"The hardest task you can have is getting here, not being here," Mr Rees added with a nod to the campaigning process.

"You have to separate what goes on on social media from what happens in real life... people being macho behind a computer. The worst is always when doing a campaign."

"It's one thing expressing an opinion, but not expressing a hateful comment. What would be good is if we could get the prosecution of some of these people."

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Angela Burns said there needed to be a broader representation of AMs to reflect the public

Angela Burns AM, Conservative

"I wanted to take part in this scheme because I think we need to have a broader representation of assembly members to reflect our country - young people, young women.

"All the different people bring forward a different view and work in different ways.

"I've met so many great women and want to ask - how about standing as a councillor? There is a real sense in women that they can't, it wouldn't suit a woman's life, especially if they are mums."

On whether recent sexism or harassment allegations would deter women, Ms Burns said: "Everything that's going on in politics defers people, per se. I think the media are responsible for it. More people go into politics for good reasons.

"We need to remind people that they need to get involved in politics, or else who will? Otherwise we leave it open to extremists of all natures."

She added there were many politicians whose political views she did not agree with but who she knew were in it for the right reasons because they want to make a difference.

"The bad stuff that comes out happens in all industries, politicians just get the airtime.

"Twitter is a really unpleasant echo chamber. You must remember that most of these people are trolls, and very tribal. Take it with a pinch of salt. Report it to the assembly and the police. We can't be silent about it.

"The people you need to care about are your local community, Mrs Smith down the road" - who, she added, was "most likely not on Twitter."

Ms Burns told women applying: "Be brave. It's not all your life, I did lots of different jobs. Keep that sense of perspective. It's not reserved for men or people with political backgrounds.

"It takes few moments of courage."