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Labour Must Break Its Own Glass Ceiling, Which Is Why I'm Backing Yvette Cooper

19/08/2015 17:50 BST | Updated 19/08/2016 10:59 BST

There has been a lot of rhetoric during the Labour leadership campaign about Jeremy Corbyn being the only candidate to offer a radical and positive alternative to the Tory austerity agenda. True, it would be a fair assessment to say that Burnham is running on a Farage-esque 'man of the people' platform and that Kendall, resilient and impressive she may be, has been dubbed as the 'Tory-lite' candidate. At first glance, none but Corbyn seem to be particularly inspiring for those envisioning a new kind of politics.

As a student and a socialist, like so many others eligible to vote in this contest, my first instinct was also towards Corbyn; he of course represents principles that myself and many others joined the Labour Party to support. However, as news cycles went on, the reintroduction of 1980s Old Labour solutions such as Clause IV began to look less and less radical. Rather than running on a platform that saw the party lose by a landslide, it seemed much more radical to look to the future and lead a 'vocational revolution' to end the notion that academia is the only way for the young to succeed; to invest in green technology and clean coal rather than reopen mining pits in South Wales; to focus on extending Sure Start and universal childcare to transform family's lives rather than 'switching control of some power stations from a group of white middle-aged men in an energy company to a group of white middle-aged men in Whitehall'. Cooper's own vision of reforming capitalism into a social-democratic alternative based on Labour's founding principles of social justice seemed just as radical as Corbyn's vision to me - if not more so, as it looks to harness the future rather than the past.

But perhaps the most radical and exciting vision for the Labour Party that Cooper offers is championing women's rights through finally breaking the party's own glass ceiling and electing its first female leader. Cooper's strong feminist stance as leader may finally achieve what Labour has yet to do: put women's rights at the very heart of its campaign. Although the idea that gender politics is just as significant as class politics may offend some traditional left wing supporters, gender inequality is still prevalent in 21st century Britain and even more so worldwide. Despite the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the Fawcett Society has calculated that the pay gap stood at 19.1% in 2014. In one of the most developed countries in the world, only 29% of MPs in Parliament are female; up to 3 million women and girls across the UK experience rape, violence or stalking each year (source: Feminista); and women are still held back by oppressive attitudes and stereotypes that operate in all walks of life. In the third world, women are still subjected to bride murders, denial of education and even execution for being raped. To say that Yvette Cooper's feminism is insignificant to Labour's campaign is to say that the issues that affect 50% of the world's population are also insignificant.

That's why having a strong, feminist female leader such as Yvette Cooper is so crucial: gender inequality is undoubtedly one of the unanswered travesties of the 21st century. Cooper, a candidate who has always placed women's issues at the forefront of her agenda and who was unabashedly used the word 'feminist' can finally bring the issue of women's oppression to the centre of the political debate. Cooper is right that feminism should be taught in schools: it is right that Martin Luther King is a universally known name for his remarkable achievements, but it is wrong that Emmeline Pankhurst is not known as universally for hers.

At a time when the Tory austerity agenda has caused 230 women a day to be turned away from Women's Aid due to lack of space, or when violence against women services have been disproportionately cut by 4% (source: Feminista), Cooper's opposition to Tory cuts alongside her strident feminism could not come at a more crucial time. At a time when Nigel Farage proclaims live on Channel 4 News that women who have had maternity leave are less valuable in the workplace; when David Cameron condescendingly tells a female colleague to 'calm down dear'; and when Andy Burnham releases a video to announce he is the 'only candidate who can beat Corbyn' - despite there being two women in the race - a feminist leader is needed in politics to show women that they are just as valuable in any profession as a man. For Labour to be able to continue proclaiming itself the party of equality with any shred of credibility, surely it's time for a leader who isn't going to add to a long list of white men in suits.

For far too long has women's rights been swept to the side of the political debate, left for pressure groups and the efforts of individual women to handle. But it's 2015, and the fourth wave of feminism has rapidly become a cultural phenomenon across the West that has inspired young girls everywhere, and to say that women's rights are not important enough to be central to the political debate is to say that women just aren't that bothered about not getting hired based on being 'at childbearing age'. It's to say that it shouldn't be challenged that when I was at school, my being opinionated was being 'bossy' or a 'feminazi' when my male classmates were respected, or that girls being brutalised and denied an education isn't an urgent political issue. Frankly, being skeptical of the need for women's rights to be at the centre of the political stage is a direct insult to the many brave women who fought, starved and died for our right to vote less than one hundred years ago. The fight for gender equality didn't start and end at universal suffrage: it has only just begun.

Until the pressing issue of gender inequality is remedied - socially, politically and economically - then progressive politics everywhere is losing a battle it has barely began to fight. In a country still run by an old boys network, we need a female leader to set a new precedent - one that says you don't have to be a white male to lead the Labour Party. As Cooper put it, 'David Cameron has a woman problem - let's give him an even bigger one."

It's time for Labour to elect its first female leader and do exactly that.