Valerie Wise, former Chair of the GLC’s Women’s Commitee.
The GLC Women’s Committee was established in May 1982, a year after Labour came to power. Labour had promised to set up an Ethnic Minorities Committee, but there was no such commitment for women. Women’s economic status, their caring responsibilities and their specific needs regarding public sector services together convinced me and a small group of women, both inside and outside of the GLC that if we were to make a real difference to the lives of women in London we needed a Women’s Committee, which would be the first of its kind in the UK.
This proposal was greeted by the Labour Group with incredulity, bemusement and hostility (not all of the 9 Labour women out of 50 Labour councillors supported the proposal). However a notable exception was Ken Livingstone who backed it fully and continued to support it throughout its existence.
The attitude of the Labour Group, who had been elected on a manifesto of fighting deprivation and disadvantage, provided a startling illustration of the extent and force of discrimination against women. It was regarded as heresy to give attention to women’s needs and unheard of to give them money to improve their lives.
Throughout the four years of its existence the outspoken and consistent support of Ken Livingstone was crucial. The Women’s Committee changed the face of County Hall and promoted policies, which were then regarded as controversial but now are totally mainstream. The GLC Women’s Committee led the way and without the support of Ken Livingstone would not have been the success it was.