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Poll: Panellists speak of challenges during Bury St Edmunds Fawcett Society debate on women in public life

PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 February 2014

The panellists for the Fawcett Society debate in Bury St Edmunds on February 5 with organiser Eleanor Rehahn. Left to right: Franstine Jones, Eleanor Rehahn, Sarah Stamp, Julia Wakelam, Anne Gower and Jane Basham.

The panellists for the Fawcett Society debate in Bury St Edmunds on February 5 with organiser Eleanor Rehahn. Left to right: Franstine Jones, Eleanor Rehahn, Sarah Stamp, Julia Wakelam, Anne Gower and Jane Basham.

Mariam Ghaemi

Five women in the public eye have spoken of the challenges they have faced as they have strived to succeed.

On Wednesday the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Fawcett Society, which works for women’s rights, hosted a debate entitled ‘how can we increase the representation of women in politics and public life?’

The event had stirred up some remarks before it even began, with one councillor mentioning the “total exclusion” of men due to an all-female panel.

But Eleanor Rehahn, one of the organisers of the debate, had said speakers were needed with experience of the issues themselves.

She said across the UK today women are dramatically underrepresented in positions of power and influence, for example men outnumber women four to one in Parliament.

The panel included: Anne Gower and Sarah Stamp, who are both councillors on Suffolk County Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Jane Basham, parliamentary candidate for South Suffolk, Franstine Jones, president of the National Black Police Association, and Julia Wakelam, a St Edmundsbury Borough councillor.

When asked whether they had had any barriers in their achievement due to being a woman, Mrs Gower said she preferred to use the word “challenges”.

“I have always said women are like teabags - you put them in water and they get stronger.”

She added: “I think the challenges I have dealt with throughout my life have made me the person I am.”

Ms Basham said: “Women still get sacked because they get pregnant - shocking, but true.”

A young woman in the audience told the panel she had been asked on a job application form to say whether she intended to have children.

Ms Basham said: “You are already not on that playing field with everyone else.”

She said while she was campaigning to be police and crime commissioner for Suffolk she had been told she was “too small” for the job.

There was a discussion during the debate about whether the structures of institutions needed to change to increase the representation of women.

Mrs Gower said she was not in favour of “revolution,” but felt people needed to work within the existing structures, while Ms Wakelam believed the structures did need to be addressed, mentioning how “all-women shortlists” could help.

Follow the Bury Fawcett Society at Twitter @fawcettbse. Email the branch at burystedmundsfawcett@gmail.com

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