Women shaped our Party’s past – and by relaunching our women’s network, we will shape its future too.

On Monday we re-launched the Co-op Party Women’s Network, with over forty women from across the party joining our Labour & Co-op MPs for an evening of networking and laying the foundations for the rejuvenated network. 

Ria Bernard

Volunteer Co-ordinator, Co-operative Party Women's Network

This October will mark the Centenary Anniversary of the Co-operative Party; the party that grew out of a movement in which women have played an active role from the beginning. From the creation of those first co-operatives within local communities and the formation of the Co-op Women’s Guild in 1883, to the establishment of the Co-operative Party in 1917 which permitted female members on the same basis as men, women have remained equal advocates of Co-operative principles.

However, despite this impressive history of co-operation that transcended the gender inequality of the day, we recognise that women remain under-represented within the Co-op Party and politics more widely. Against such a backdrop, how could we not re-launch a network that would bring our female members together to promote those co-operative principles and ideas that offer solutions to the problems we currently face as a nation?

At the launch event, we were delighted to be joined by phenomenal women who have all played their part within our party. Claire McCarthy, General Secretary, gave an inspiring welcome as she listed the varied achievements of women across the movement from the time of the party’s inception; while Seema Malhotra MP and Meg Hillier MP rallied for us to stand together and to take the lead in the policy debates that will ensue; finally Cate Tuitt, London Co-op Party Council member talked about the need to make a space for women and to support ongoing campaigns, such as Fair Trade. The conversations and messages left by members at the end of the evening cemented in my mind the decision to re-launch such a network.

It has been overwhelming to hear from so many impassioned, enthusiastic women in response to the network’s first event. Furthermore, it was remarkable to see the incredible talent, range of experiences and willingness to contribute to the network’s success for the benefit of all women. We intend to harness every one of your ideas and offers of help in order to achieve our clear aims and objectives:

  1. To increase participation and representation of women across the Co-operative Party,
  2. To raise awareness of Co-operative values amongst female members and facilitate new campaigns and projects that are built around these values
  3. To provide the opportunity for women within the Co-op Party to network, share ideas and learn from each other
  4. To offer training and skill development for women keen to develop a range of key political and leadership skills
  5. To provide workshops to support women to run as Co-op candidates at the local and national level

The name Co-operative Women’s Network does not dictate the policy areas that we wish to debate – all issues are women’s issues. We all have our interest areas and specialist experiences that contribute to a range of policy areas from social care and education, to housing and the economy; from finance and international development, to local government and beyond.

The network intends to encourage more of our female members to take an active role within the internal party and policy-making; to form new networks and to increase the number of brilliant women standing for local and national elections. We have a host of event ideas up our sleeve in terms of panel events, training and more, however we’re keen to hear from you! Several members have already been in touch about hosting similar events in their region and we would very much like to hear from you if you are interested in helping us with that.

The Co-op Women’s Network aims to champion the talents of our female members and spread the meaning of co-operative values to inform our policy. But above all else it will be a network in which women will stand together, support one another and advocate each other in a bid to equalise the political arena.

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