Nia Edwards-Behi, originally from Llanfairfechan but has lived in Aberystwyth since 2004, yesterday won the North Aberystwyth ward by-election after being extremely busy campaigning in recent weeks. Despite her full timetable, she’s kindly found some time to write a piece for us in the hope that other women in Wales will be able to learn from her experience.
In her spare time, Nia is the Chair of the West Wales anti-racism network, and intends to work tirelessly for justice and fairness in her community if elected.
Many other women in Wales care about important issues in their community and want to solve these problems, but an elected post may not always be seen as a platform for change. It takes a lot of confidence to stand as a candidate – a choice Nia has recently made for herself.
“I have to admit, I’m not sure whether I would have gone for it if one or two people hadn’t suggested it to me.”, says Nia, “I don’t necessarily have a political background; I’ve never studied politics and I haven’t directly campaigned for the Party before either. But I’m really interested in politics (like so many people!) and also in taking action and campaigning on people’s behalf. Of course something that is vital for the role of a town councillor is the ability and desire to help people. I think I have relevant skills – extensive experience of public speaking and conversing with all kinds of people, as well as communicating effectively with people. I would hope these attributes make me a strong candidate for Town Council and enable me to help effectively.”
“I’m really enjoying the process of canvassing at the moment, as well as having the opportunity to discuss issues that are important to people. I have come to realise that an important part of the work of a town councillor is being an advocate for people. Town councillors have their own specific responsibilities, but I believe that the role is important in order to put pressure on representatives and other authorities when necessary.”
There are several reasons why fewer women stand in elections – locally and nationally – and why they have several obstacles to overcome. The political world can sometimes be a lonely and isolated place, especially as the public perception of the political world is seen to be predominantly male. The experience of standing as a female politician can vary depending on the area and the support received. Nia has high praise for the support she’s received.
Nia says, “I’m very lucky that I have a great agent, someone who helps organize the campaign and the canvassing schedule, and is co-ordinating the day of the by-election itself. There are also other councillors in the area who have been a great help with canvassing, offering advice and also coming with me from time to time to knock doors.
Branch staff have also been great, making sure I have good leaflets to distribute and organizing others to distribute my leaflets around the town. Without this help I don’t believe I could have run such an organized and effective campaign (and hopefully a successful one!). I even had the opportunity to canvass from door to door with Ben Lake and Elin Jones, which was a great experience. I think I’m very lucky to have the help and support of such an experienced and active branch and constituency.”
There is no disputing that women should be involved in every aspect of the political process, but how do we increase the percentage of women joining the national register? How important are efforts such as Plaid Ifanc’s Candidates Workshop, and similar events held in Aberystwyth and the Rhondda on ‘Encouraging New Candidates’?
“I was part of this fairly small event in Aberystwyth, which was a conversation between an experienced politician, Elin Jones, and me, someone with almost no experience at all. I thought the event was a good start – one person in the room was attending a branch meeting for the first time, and she was a woman!” says Nia.
I believe such events need to be done in a way that is almost separate from Plaid. In order to encourage a new generation, we need to reach those who have never before considered supporting or following a political party. I don’t know whether an event connected to a particular party will appeal to women who want to know more about political processes, etc. but are reluctant to tie themselves to one party.
A lot of thought goes into holding events like these, especially considering the location, transport, accessibility, etc. Of course, sometimes you just have to go with what’s available, especially if an event is organized without much money or in a short period of time. However, we must consider some of the barriers that prevent people from coming to events. I also think that listening to women at events is important to promote candidates – real listening, which leads to action. We also need to raise awareness of the range of political jobs that are available – i.e. not only as elected representatives – to gain interest and confidence.”
As Plaid Ifanc celebrates International Women’s Day by releasing this article, in the hope that it will encourage more women to act politically, Nia will be doing exactly that in Aberystwyth!
“On International Women’s Day, I will be helping with a special event here in Aberystwyth, which is hosted by Ben Lake. The event is aimed at young women, aged between 16 and 30, to give them an opportunity to express what issues are most important in their lives – e.g. climate change, salaries, mental health, or anything big or small. The event’s format will be a talk / workshop, and the ultimate aim will be to decide, as a group, on three main subjects that they would like Ben to campaign on in Westminster.
Hopefully, by doing this, not only we will be able to hear from young women, but also hopefully encourage them to consider what kind of action they could take to enact change, and influence people with official power – and of course emphasize that everyone has the power to enact change if they have the opportunity to cultivate it.”