West Ham Women’s Forum has been growing from strength to strength ever seen it was established by West Ham Women’s Officer, Cllr Seyi Akiwowo in November 2013. It has been recognised by the National Labour Party in the CLP Women’s Officer handbook as example of great practice for other Women’s Officer around the UK to follow. At the Women’s Forum inaugural gathering in Lyn Brown MP’s house everyone brought along a delicious homemade dish. The kitchen table reflected the amazing diversity of our Women’s Forum with a lovely fresh pot of Biryani, sausage rolls, cakes and a plate of Jerk Chicken. It was lovely way to meet and encourage new and old members that have never attended a local Labour meeting before. By the end of the night a spirit of sisterhood was clearly evident in Lyn’s living room and the West Ham Women’s Forum officially formed.
In 2014, Seyi organised the Women’s Forum first training session this stemmed from a discussion with one of the Forum member who shared her anxiety about canvassing. Since our well‐attended canvassing training session, we have seen more women attend and confidently participate not only in West Ham campaigning sessions but sessions in other CLPs.
West Ham Women’s Forum also organised and held an Education Debate. The debate gave both members local party and the public an opportunity to put forward their views on the future of education to political leaders, these included Lord Andrew Adonis, Sharon Hodgson MP, Professor Becky Francis (Professor of Education and Social justice at Kings College University), and Cllr Dianne Walls (who has taught in the East end for over 40 years and is a School Governor). The main objective of the Education Debate was to reflect on Labour’s legacy on education, and discuss the stance that the party should take in developing a new educational policy.
West Ham Labour Women’s Forum celebrated International Women’s Day with a ‘Wonderland’ of stalls and activities in West Ham and a successful fundraiser for our sisters affected by the war in Syria. Women’s Wonderland was primarily a chance for West Ham women to enjoy each others company – but it also showcased Labour values to women outside the party, some of whom have since shown an interest in joining. With stalls covering issues from health, domestic violence prevention, to facials and massages, to the launch of our new book club, West Ham women demonstrated that we can do far more than bake a good cake (though there were many of those). ver 60women attended, and together we raised £165 for the ongoing work of the Women’s Forum (we wanted to be financially independent) and £103 for the International Rescue Committee, the charity run by David Miliband.
The Forum’s proudest moment was definitely uniting with our sisters in East Ham CLP to produce a proposal documentfor the 2014 Newham Labour Local Election Manifesto. After several consultations with women groups, meetings and late nights we successfully added three commitments to the manifesto that will improve the lives of women in Newham‐ reducing domestic violence, effective health screenings and Free English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) classes.
We’ve had a successful fundraising dinner with the then Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Dame Dawn Primarolo MP. There has been an increase of active women at Labour meetings asking important questions, voicing their great ideas and standing for positions. Women are confidently playing their full part in all of the work of the local party, increasingly more branches now with female chairs, female vice chairs (one branch turned this into a job share role) and a female secretary. West Ham Women’s Forum illustrate the power of a positive sisterhood making a difference to people’s live and what we can and will achieve whilst having good fun.
We recently hosted a successful open discussion meeting with the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury,Seema Malhotra MP. We discussed how the Labour Party can regain economic credibility among British voters. West Ham Women’s Forum still have a number of plans for the rest of the year including a training session on 26th February for women interested in standing to be a councillor in 2018 local elections.
If you have any thoughts or comments on how we can make West Ham Labour Party more women friendly, ideas for future meetings or you would like to get more involved please get in touch with our Women’s Officer Seyi Akiwowo
West Ham CLP Women’s Forum