Whatever the challenges and drawbacks, young women should continue to engage in politics

Young women often find it difficult to have their voices heard in what continues to be an older and male dominated sphere. Rosie Corrigan, the country’s youngest Mayor, argues that women have much to contribute, and despite the various drawbacks, challenges and restrictions that face young women attempting to create genuine change in their communities, they should nonetheless seek to get involved in the system and change it from the inside.

Credit: FaceMePls, CC BY 2.0

A discussion in York (Credit: FaceMePls, CC BY 2.0)

On 5th May 2011 I said goodbye to my beautiful mother at St Mary’s Church in Selby. I then crossed the road to the local polling station where I cast the first vote of my life. I was 18 years old. I voted for a Labour candidate who would go on to take a Conservative held Town Council seat. That candidate was me.

The count was held the following day. As I stood nervously watching the ballot papers as they were sorted out a woman leaned into me and commented “have you heard about the girl Labour has put up? Her mum just died. I expect she’ll get a few sympathy votes for that”. I can only presume that she thought I was a member of a different party – I wasn’t wearing a rosette. It was at that point that I realised I would need to get tough fast, that no allowances would be made for a younger person in local politics.

Prior to standing as a Town Council candidate I had spent my younger years as part of my local Youth Councils and the UK Youth Parliament. I was tired of politicians ignoring young people. We just weren’t enough of an electoral presence to matter. I also had an enthusiastic optimism that I could change the world starting with my hometown. I believed that socialism was the way to do this. I am still optimistic and still a passionate socialist, but I am clear that there are specific barriers that young Councillors and particularly young women must overcome to make change happen.

It’s a slow process and it is not easy. The opposition will feel threatened by a “bright young thing” and will publicly attack you. People, even members of your own party, will think that you are “just too young” or “inexperienced”.  Frustrated, I asked a young male politician how he overcame this. He told me that he grew a beard in order to look older – not helpful to me!

In May 2014 I became the Mayor of my hometown – the youngest ever female Mayor in the UK. My appointment received significant media interest. I made the mistake of reading the comments on online tabloid articles and took the negative sentiments of keyboard warriors to heart. I am still working on developing a thick skin. It’s easier said than done.

Another issue that young Councillors must overcome is finance. The role of a Town Councillor is unpaid and requires time. There are not many people willing employ a young Councillor who will need time off work. I have been lucky enough to find work, but I expect that this is a factor that discourages many people from standing for election who cannot rely upon the bank of mum and dad. If the young person then goes on to stand for a selection to become a Parliamentary candidate they will need to find around £200 minimum to finance the process. Politics isn’t cheap!

I am concerned but not surprised that my demographic, young women, are not engaging with politics. When we see a Parliament dominated by older men in suits, from backgrounds such as law and banking, what do we expect? When young people who put themselves forward in elections hoping that they can make a difference are labelled as a “career politician” why would anyone put themselves through it? Young women with children are especially barred from elections, childcare is far too expensive and politics makes no allowances for this. We all have our own life experiences, but unless that means owning our own business or working in the city, then they just don’t seem to count.

There are occasions when I feel disheartened, frustrated and dejected. But there are days that fill me with indescribable joy. When young girls tell me that they want to be a Councillor when they are old enough to stand. And there are days that fill me with a fire and drive to fight. I will never forget the day that I met a seven year old girl who was upset because she had to leave her home, friends and school because her mother could not afford to pay the bedroom tax.

I know that as a young woman my demographic faces many problems and this includes our own confidence. However the only way to change politics is to change it from the inside. This is why I ask every young woman reading this to think about making a difference in your community by considering standing for an election, whatever colour your politics is. We are all capable. We just need to support each other, be brave and keep trying.

This post is part of a series on youth participation based on the Political Studies Association project, Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission. For further details, please contact Dr Andy Mycock. An electronic copy of the Beyond the Youth Citizenship Commission: Young People and Politics volume can be downloaded here. It originally appeared on the Future of the UK and Scotland site. It represents the views of the author,and not those of Democratic Audit or the LSE. Please read our comments policy before posting. 

RCRosie Corrigan is the Mayor of Selby Town Council and the youngest Mayor in the country. She has been a Councillor for West Ward since

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