During the current election campaign I have been subject to a number of personal attacks online which appear to have raised questions more generally about the ability of women to serve as an elected representative if they are a mother or soon-to-be mother.
I have therefore written a joint letter from myself and the Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Rex Osborn, to the Leader of Wandsworth Council to seek cross party support for a maternity policy for cllrs and to promote an inclusive political culture within Wandsworth Town Hall. I will share a response to the letter as soon as I receive it.
Dear Cllr Govindia,
During the general election campaign some unpleasant tweets have appeared which suggested that Cllr Rachael Stokes has been less than fully attentive to her Councillor duties.
More seriously, when it was pointed out that Cllr Stokes has fulfilled her councillor duties but is also pregnant and her rights to maternity leave were added into the discussion the tweets took an even nastier turn.
@westhilltories responded with “We’re all sympathetic but the need for representation does not go away.” Later comments included “Last RS barnstormer in chamber?”.
These comments appear to question Cllr Stokes’s, or any elected woman’s, ability to represent their residents if they become pregnant.
We are pleased to note that the offending tweets were taken down after less than a day, perhaps because wiser heads in the Conservative Party advised deletion. An apology would have been appropriate too.
Putting aside the fact that some of the comments made about Cllr Stokes were offensive on a personal level, more importantly they did a disservice to serving and aspiring female politicians everywhere – regardless of their political affiliation.
Being a mother should hold no bar to political office; and serving councillors should not be judged on their status as a mother, soon-to-be mother or otherwise.
We would like to think this is a view which receives cross-party support, with commitments from all parties to ensure an inclusive political culture within Wandsworth Town Hall and to make proactive efforts to address barriers that discourage individuals from putting themselves forward as a councillor.
With this in mind, we are writing to seek support from you to initiate discussion of the potential for a maternity policy for Wandsworth Councillors. The lack of one has been brought to the fore following this very public exchange on Twitter. A comprehensive maternity, and maybe paternity policy, might have deterred the ill-judged remarks of @westhilltories, allowing the election campaign to remain concentrated on priorities facing the local electorate.
With best wishes,
Cllr Rex Osborn and Cllr Rachael Stokes