Durham City parliamentary candidates have met, in the run up to the May 7th general election, to discuss issues facing women.
Last Friday, April 24, the Member of Parliament for Durham City and prospective parliamentary candidates gathered at St. Chad’s College to discuss their parties’ positions on significant women’s issues such as affirmative action, the glass ceiling in the workplace, and rape and sexual violence at the university and the community at large.
The debate, which was organised and chaired by Ms Sofia Hewson, was attended by Roberta Blackman-Woods (Labour MP), Jonathan Elmer (Green), John Marshall (Independent), Rebecca Coulson (Conservative) and Craig Martin (Liberal Democrat).
In addition to the questions that had been received in the days leading up to the debate, the candidates also faced unseen questions on their parties’ roles in curbing gender discrimination in private enterprises, LGBT rights and the potential impacts of NHS reform on female job cuts.
The candidates drew mixed responses from the audience. Ms Blackman-Woods, a veteran who has served as the MP for Durham City since 2005, was keen to stress the importance of equal opportunity while advocating the All-Women Shortlist and the importance of devoting a larger budget to encourage women to serve in politics.
The independent candidate John Marshall, however, was often unable to directly address the question – particularly on government involvement in tackling gender discrimination in private enterprises – a tendency which a first year University College student described as ‘annoying’.
Ms Hewson – president of the Castle Feminists – said of her intentions for organising the event: ‘We organised the hustings because we wanted to give the Durham PPCs a chance to outline their positions on important issues: from the gender pay gap, to how austerity impacts women, to affirmative action, to LGBTQ rights. Until we have equal rights and equal opportunities in the UK, we need to have spaces to talk about women’s issues.’
Ms Hewson, went on to say that she believes that (young people aged 18–24) ‘often confuse feeling disenfranchised with apathy. Young people aren’t innately politically apathetic. Everyone should be encouraged to engage with political issues which impact women. The election is a chance for us to scrutinise policies (past and potential), give women a voice and make sure that the next government represents us all.’
With an advantage of just 3000 votes in the 2010 election, it remains to be seen if Labour’s eighty year dominance of the City of Durham constituency seat will be toppled on May 7.