Friday, 29 May 2009

A bumpy ride?

As a (relatively) young woman in politics, and one very aware of the gender dimension of politics – having both studied gender politics and also convening the SNP Women’s Forum for a time – I am disappointed that women are under-represented in this vital area of public life.

There was some debate in a number of blogs in recent months over the issue of all women shortlists in the Labour party. I personally disagree with that particular measure, but I don’t know what things are like in the Labour party, and if they feel the need for such measures, then it’s not my place to comment. I don’t intend to tread that ground again either, but rather share a bit of good news.

As regular readers of the blog will be aware, I am a candidate for the next Westminster election. I was selected back in September 2007 for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East. But what many people won’t yet know is that I am expecting a baby in a few months.

Naturally, I was slightly apprehensive about telling people in my local constituency, because I didn’t want them to think that my commitment to the election campaign has lessened any. Don’t get me wrong – I knew people would be happy for me and Jamie on a personal level, but thought that they may have some concerns about my capacity to campaign as the bump grew. I’m also aware that Catherine Stihler was being criticised on the doorsteps for being pregnant - as a deliberate tactic to undermine her candidacy - by a certain political party (not mine!) in the Dunfermline & West Fife by-election. So I was aware of general prejudice out there I suppose, and the possibility of our political opponents locally utilising such tactics.

I shouldn’t have worried. Everyone in the local SNP and wider party is delighted for us, and as far as they are concerned, it isn’t an issue. I also found out that one of our local councillors was pregnant when she stood for the council. She said that canvassing was great, because everybody asked her in for a cup of tea and a sit down! I have been told not to overdo things, to avoid stairwells, and not to feel under pressure to do more than I feel up to just because I’m the candidate.

Interestingly, a handful of people have asked me if I intend to continue as a candidate now that I’m pregnant – but none of those people are involved in politics. Nobody in the SNP has asked me that question. So perhaps some people will look at me out campaigning and disapprove, but I’ve not had any negative reactions on the doorsteps so far.

I just wanted to share my experience and point out that women do not always get a raw deal in politics. I have never experienced any prejudice in the SNP because of my gender (or for any other reason), and I know that the expectation of prejudice is one common reason that women don’t put themselves forward for election. And now, as a pregnant youngish woman standing for parliament, I feel 100% supported by my party – nationally and locally.

And my commitment to the campaign? Well, now that I have my very own little member of the next generation on the way, my resolve to help make Scotland a better place to live is stronger than ever.


Math Campbell said...

And good for you.
Women are hideously under-represented in public office; so many decisions are made about families and woman in general by bodies that are made up of far more men.
I don't think all-women shortlists are the answer though. That defeats democracy.
I think a positive-action campaign, encouraging more women to take part in the political process would be good. Also assistance so that those women who wish to do so and have a family as well are able to do so (putting aside the fact that men and women are both equally capable of being the stay-at-home whilst the partner works).
The UK seems to lag behind the rest of the EU in this matte. I can therefore only wish you much luck with your campaign (on a personal level as well as hoping the Party's candidate wins).

And since I didn't know and haven't had the opportunity, congratulations to you and Jamie.

Yousuf Hamid said...

That's good to hear. Good luck!!

Mark McDonald said...

Congratulations Julie, that is awesome news!

As a relatively new parent I can assure you that life is about to get very interesting for you both!

Julie Hepburn said...

Thanks folks!

Rob Davidson said...

Congratulations to you both!

My daughter was one in April - babies are good.

Julie Hepburn said...

Cheers Rob - 'babies are good' is a nice change from all the 'babies are hard work' comments ;o)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. I think one of the problems is that pregnancy is treated as an illness in this country (not least by women themselves), when in fact it is not. Except for perhaps a couple of weeks after the birth, there is no reason a pregnant woman in good health cannot work unless her job involves particular risks. We keep this quiet though.

I speak as a formerly pregnant woman who went to a job interview in my last trimester, and to my surprise got the job. The fear of prejudice is sometimes worse than the actual prejudice, which would be illegal in any event. Anyway I hope all goes well in the birth and the election.