If you have ever hesitated before shutting down a sexist joke or been told that you’re over-reacting when you object to groping or cat-calling, you will know how important and validating it is to have someone else stand with you in solidarity and support.
The activist from Harlem, Tarana Burke understood this when she created the campaign ‘Me Too’ ten years ago to help black women who had experienced sexual abuse or harassment. She wanted them to know that they were not alone and to have a space where they could share their stories and draw strength from each other.
In the past few months, this campaign has seen a groundswell of people, mostly women, utilising the hashtag and taking to social media to share their own experiences of sexual abuse and harassment. Whilst it has been heart breaking to see the sheer volume of stories, it is also empowering to see people supporting each other and taking a collective stance against behaviour which is often rooted in the commodification and sexualisation of women’s bodies and the abuse of insidious power hierarchies.
I am honoured to be a member of a political party whose leader has long been leading the way in speaking out against harassment and challenging the patriarchal structures which have long kept women’s voices marginalised in public life. Leanne Wood has talked openly about the horrific volume of online abuse she receives which, like that received by other female politicians, contains gendered slurs and targets her body and appearance in ways which most male politicians do not have to face. Leanne has used her platform to fight back and to consistently remind people that there are many other women, particularly LGBTQ women, BAME women and women with disabilities who are kept out of public life altogether.
Leanne has fought to bring more women into politics, highlighting that there is still a large gender gap in Welsh local councils where only 26% of councillors are female. Achieving equality in public life is crucial because when our politicians are representative, it will be reflected in our policies.
However, Leanne also understands that achieving gender equality requires that we go much further than equal numbers of men and women in politics or boardrooms for, despite what some elements of popular culture would have us believe, women are not a homogenous group. We have multi-faceted identities which means that some women face multiple and distinct oppressions and societal barriers relating to other factors such as race, sexuality and gender identity. Under Leanne’s leadership, Plaid Cymru is working to tackle these barriers and the problematic gender and societal norms in which we operate which have often allowed inequalities to proliferate.
Leanne has frequently highlighted the terrible cost of austerity for communities in Wales and the way that cuts to women’s refuges, social services and domestic abuse services are negatively impacting on Welsh women. Plaid Cymru is committed to tackling austerity and the barriers facing women in disadvantaged socio-economic communities. As a party, we are working to eradicate zero-hour contracts, tackle the issue of lower pay in what are deemed traditionally female occupations and fighting to close attainment gaps relating to economic backgrounds in Welsh schools. Inspired by Leanne’s leadership, young activists within the party are flourishing and actively contributing to this goal such as Elyn Stephens who has undertaken incredible work on the issue of period poverty in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
As party leader, Leanne Wood has shown her commitment to fighting for all women time after time. This is crucial when we live in a society where three in four young trans people self-harm at some point and many trans women face difficulties when trying to access health care. Plaid Cymru’s determination to help support the trans community in Wales led to the party securing a million pounds of investment for gender identity services and eating disorder clinics in 2016.
Leanne Wood has a vision for Wales in which the goal is not simply for women to achieve equality with men, but that we build a more progressive Wales for all. A Wales in which everyone has an equal chance of succeeding, whatever success might look like to them. A Wales in which we tackle poverty, provide equitable access to education and have well paid employment. Her vision is an independent Wales that is economically, socially and environmentally progressive.
It is because of this vision that I am proud to call Leanne Wood my leader and have been inspired not only to join Plaid Cymru, but to campaign so that in 2021 Leanne Wood can set her vision in motion as our First Minister.