Age-related sexism is a real obstacle to progress in getting more women to the political frontline, and it’s well time that political parties began to realise that and act upon it. The repeated failure in the UK and beyond to achieve more women in Parliament and elsewhere is a fundamental obstacle to meaningful universal suffrage.
Nonetheless, the continuing tendency is somehow to blame women themselves for not standing in sufficient numbers where there are winnable seats. This is neither fair nor honest. Insofar as ‘fault’ is the issue, it lies rather more specifically with the present power elite (mostly male) than with ‘women’ in general.
The current belief is that ‘training’ will address the gender deficit in candidate lists, but this averts attention from some central issues. One size does not fit all. Inflexible programmes of induction can diminish rather than enhance the standing within their party of better experienced and qualified candidates; and this is especially true of mature women candidates entering the fray.
Women tend to come into politics as an occupation later in life than men; and generally greater life and work / professional experience is a very good preparation for serious politics.
How ‘older’ women are perceived in politics remains however problematic. ’Training’ (by whom?) in preparation for front-line political involvement is not an appropriate way forward for many; they often already know their way around the system and may for years have provided backroom political support for others.
What’s needed in such cases is a better respect for the experience and competence of women with both these assets who, with encouragement, would be willing to stand for election.
More support, maybe even mentoring, for female potential candidates, certainly. But it’s sometimes the (youngish, male) party officials and officers who need the training – and what they need to learn is that youngish, male politicos should be but a subset of the greater political class.
Today is Council and City Mayor elections in large parts of the country. Next on the agenda, later in the year, will be elections for Police Commissioners and perhaps more Mayors.
Is it too much to hope the batch of mostly male Council Leaders and Mayors elected today will make a proper effort to ensure they include an adequate number of women (and other so-called ‘minorities’) amongst their advisers, officers and deputies?
Can the unthinking age-related sexism and responses of political patriarchy be put aside? Will a ‘pipeline’ of women potential commissioners and mayoral candidates with real experience of life be created for the future?
We shall see.