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Why the Labour Leadership Contest Should Have Been an All Female Shortlist

31/07/2015 11:59 BST | Updated 30/07/2016 10:59 BST

When the Labour Party talk of their greatest achievements, the NHS, establishment of the minimum wage and the creation of Sure Start springs to mind. People rarely discuss its decision in 1989 to impose all female short lists on a set number of Parliamentary and Local Government seats, yet it's something I'm incredibly proud of my Party for committing to. Whilst the Tories and other opponents may deem it tokenism, reflecting on the treatment of women in politics at the last election, it is clear that we need to do more to combat sexism with politics, starting with a strong female Leader of the Opposition.

Politics is undeniably a man's game, during the short campaign women featured in less than one fifth of media coverage despite holding multiple high status roles. In fact it's been calculated that Samantha Cameron got double the airtime of Theresa May, Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan combined. When women were featured in the media, there were often remarkably sexist comments alluding to their sexual attractiveness, or competence. Lest we forget the Daily Mail reporting on Nicola Sturgeon's success in the televised debate by photoshopping her in a tartan bikini on a Miley Cyrus style wrecking ball. Even when critics did take her seriously, she was deemed a 'king maker' suggesting that her only importance was to prop up another party if a coalition was needed, despite in being arguably the most successful party leader during the election.

There has been an undeniable Presidentialisation of British politics in the last few election cycles. Yet political leadership is often intangible with traditionally masculine traits such as strength, toughness, competitiveness and ambition. Thus in politics women often struggle to keep a balance between their role as a leader, and the gender roles expected of them which are up-kept by the media and patriarchal society. When the media questions a woman's weight, as they did Liz Kendal earlier this month, or questions a woman's decision not to have children, as the new statesman did, or even suggests that women in positions of leadership are a 'bitches' or 'hormonal', are therefore suggesting that women are not as competent for office as men are. Unfortunately, we currently live in a society where young women are failing to engage in politics, or stand for office. Yet how can we question this when female leaders are bullied, and the leaders within politics are unrelatable to most ordinary young women.

What we need is a strong and clearly competent woman leading the Labour Party as the Official Party of opposition, as when woman thrive in high status roles, gender barriers are broken down, and that's why all female shortlists have been so successful. Since its creation, our parliamentary system has been dominated by white, old male Etonians. Whilst much like with the fight for women's suffrage, opponents to al female shortlists argue that social attitudes would shift organically, without all female shortlists it would take over 60 years for parliament to be gender balanced, and over 100 years for the conservative party to have an equal parliamentary party.

Whilst women are becoming more and more disillusioned with politics, being less likely to vote, and more likey to say that politician's don't speak for them. It's clear that a strong female leader would help connect women with politician's once again, rather than have another white male as leader of the Labour Party, as it has been for the entirety of our history. If we look at Yvette Cooper for example, a mother of three who struggled for a year claiming benefits, whilst suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It's unfair to suggest that she would be unappealing to apathetic women throughout the country, who are currently sick of leaders boasting about their favourite football teams, or enjoying a pint in the pub.

All female shortlists have had a positive impact within the house of commons, not only do we now have more women MPs, challenging the 'boys club' culture, there is a slow, yet gradual realisation that women are just as competent at the job as men. A female leader therefore, can only further the work that has already been done by the amazing female MPs before them. Also, an all female shortlist would have given other very strong candidates such as Stella Creasy, Caroline Flint or other aspirational MPs the confidence to put themselves forward for the position.

The Labour Party has an amazing record on championing women's rights, from the Equal Pay Act to the Abortion Act, yet at this election, we failed women. We can paint as many busses pink as we like, but if we elect yet another leader who does not appeal to women who are becoming increasingly alienated, we will lose their support for the foreseeable future.