Ever since its formation the Labour Party has been the natural home for generations of women campaigning for social justice and equality.
Long before women’s suffrage became a reality, women have been active campaigners in trade unions, in suffrage groups and in local Government.
In 1899, the TUC passed a resolution to establish the Labour Representation Committee, later to become the Labour Party. The resolution was seconded by Margaret Bondfield, the only woman delegate who would go on to become the first woman cabinet minister.
Then in 1906, at the first meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, women’s suffrage was confirmed as a priority.
An early women's conference in Edinburgh
Other early leading women included Ellen Wilkinson, who as Minister for Education in the Atlee Government led on the implementation on the 1944 Education Act, as well as the introduction of measures such as free school milk. In the 1960s Jennie Lee oversaw the creation of Open University, under the Wilson Government.
Women MPs in 1929
At the same time, women were leading their local communities, and building their local Labour parties as councillors, party officers and election agents, as well as campaigning for social and economic rights for women, from equal pay to reproductive rights.
And in 1970, the historic introduction of Equal Pay Act was largely due to the work of the fourth ever woman Cabinet Minister Barbara Castle. She was followed into Cabinet by other leading Labour women Judith Hart, and then Shirley Williams.
By the 1980s, women’s groups and women led campaigns were taking on newly prominent issues, with campaigns to tackle domestic violence and sexual harassment becoming prominent. Often it was Labour women leading in their communities, setting up local authority Women’s Committees.
Women in the party were determined to change the low number of elected women-and by campaigning internally for meaningful change, the number of women elected representatives slowly began to rise. However, after just 21 Labour women were elected after the 1987 General Election, Barbara Follett and others established Labour Women’s Network as an organisation dedicated to improving women’s representation at all levels. The Labour Women’s Network continues to train and support the next generation of Labour women candidates. Find out more at www.lwn.org.uk.
Real progress was seen after the introduction of All Women Shortlists in 1993. At the 1997 General Election, 101 women were elected to parliament. This historic increase brought increased parliamentary priority to issues such as women's health, domestic violence and childcare, with legislation introduced under the last Labour Government making a real difference to women’s lives across the UK.
Since the introduction of all women shortlists, we have put our values into practise when it comes to women’s representation. Today, 33% of Labour MPs are women, more than all of the other parties put together, and women’s representation is guaranteed throughout party structures and organisations, from local branches through to the National Executive Committee. 44% of the Shadow Cabinet is made up of women, and for the first time, the Shadow Women and Equalities brief is a stand-alone position, taken on by Gloria De Piero MP.
There is still progress to be made in supporting more BAME, LGBT, and disabled women into Parliament. Labour women are ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century, continuing the legacy of the leading Labour women who have blazed the trail to put women at the heart of our party and our Politics.