Bedfordshire Women
Bedfordshire Women's Forum

The first All Bedfordshire Labour Women’s Forum event was held in Flitwick on the 22nd of February 2018. Christine Sheppard (SWBCLP), chaired the meeting and began by outlining the importance of Labour women meeting together in this kind of event to counter the ongoing affects of a society steeped in sexism and male domination. Women’s voices and leadership skills are needed in the Labour party. Two inspiring speakers then followed: Laura Coryton, who started and continues to lead the Period Poverty/Tampon Tax campaign; and Councillor Louise Jackson, a local councillor in Bedford.

Laura Coryton

Laura spoke first and described how she had started the campaign to abolish tax on sanitary products which carry a 5% levy as they are classed as “luxury” goods; this impacts on all women but particularly women on low incomes. The goal is to end this unfair tax.

Laura described the steps that can be taken to run a successful campaign which are:

  1. Identify the need for the campaign.
  2. Build a support system of friends and political activists. In this case University students got involved. Work with your local MP, do petitions and local events. MPs Paula Sherriff, Stella Creasy, and Dawn Butler in Labour Party have been good to work with on this campaign.
  3. Be, and act, confident in what you are trying to achieve; and clear about what you want to change.
  4. Identify your “change-maker”. In this campaign it was the then Chancellor, George Osborne.
  5. Once you have identified your change-maker then promote the message of the campaign via all media, but especially social media. Think BIG! The use of twitter doubled the campaign’s supporters overnight.
  6. Collaborate with other organisations to take the campaign as far as you can go; for example Laura worked with The Eve Appeal (to highlight gynaecological cancers).
  7. Never give up! Every campaign hits a difficult time, that is not the time to give up.

The campaign succeeded in getting David Cameron’s backing and to change the EU law on taxation; and the government agreed to set up a Tampon Tax Fund of the £15 million raised in tax revenue from sanitary ware sales and distribute this to women’s charities. Questions need to be asked in Parliament on how this money will be allocated.

Internationally: India has a campaign to end “period shame” and there has been a campaign in US to end tampon tax but Congress said no at its last vote on the issue.

The EU is set to end tampon tax but this won’t be until 2022. Should Brexit happen we look to the UK government to bring an end to the tampon tax.

Louise Jackson

Louise then spoke about her experience as a councillor.

She re-joined the Labour Party in 2009, and was elected in 2011 in Bedford (Harper ward) with a comfortable win. She is on the OSC (overview and scrutiny committee) with a brief to cover public health.

Louise is particularly involved with the campaign to improve the conditions for women in the privately run Yarlswood detention centre; and was meeting with the Diane Abbott delegation, BRASS women refugee & Medical Justice visit to Yarlswood the following day.

Labour’s current policy on detention is unclear and she urged those present to join the candle-lit vigil on Tuesday evening.

There are three director level women on Bedford Borough Council; and only 13 out of 41 members are women. More women are needed and Louise encouraged members to put their names forward for election.

She went on to highlight the work of the Labour Women’s Network in offering encouragement and training to Labour women.

Priya Farish

After a short break Priya Farish,women’s officer for North East Bedford and a trainer of women leaders in corporate businesses, led a fun exercise during which each woman was invited to share information about of themselves.

This was followed by a two minute session in pairs sharing “what we are good at/our expertise” before telling the whole group. This ended a positive meeting with members feeling more connected with each other, better informed and looking forward to working together.

Training Opportunity

A quality training course has been arranged specially for women seriously considering leadership and standing as a local councillor in local elections.

It will take place on Saturday the 7th of April (11am-4pm) at the Friends Meeting House, Bedford. Trainer is Joy Johnson, from UNITE, who has a great reputation.

It is highly recommended, free, but places are limited to 15. If you are interested contact Rhiannon Meades, your CLP Women’s Officer via MidBedsLabour.

Useful links:
Labour Women’s Network: www.lwn.org.uk/join or contact@lwn.org.uk
Bedfordshire Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support
Medical Justice: Working for health rights for detainees
The Eve Appeal: https://eveappeal.org.uk/ Gynaecological Cancer research fund
Period Watch: The latest phase of Laura’s Campaign

Thanks to Christine Sheppard for her excellent report which formed the basis of this blog post. Thanks to Barry James for the loan of the LU urn. And many thanks to the SWBedsCLP women who made delicious cakes!

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