On 21 October 2023, the Senedd handed over its space to the first ever We Belong Here women’s takeover event.
The event marked the result of months of close partnership with Women’s Equality Network Wales (WEN Wales) and Elect Her for a day of connection, empowerment and celebration of the importance of women in Welsh democracy.
With the purpose of bringing together a diverse community of women to learn about the opportunities and challenges of standing for elected office, We Belong Here promised to be a groundbreaking event for both the women of Wales and the Senedd.
Women of Wales take over the Senedd’s Chamber
The day began with a rare chance for attendees to sit in place of Members of the Senedd in the debating Chamber, to hear inspiring words from female political leaders and interact with a cross-party panel made up of women from local and national government, as well as a Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament.
Watching the scene below from the Chamber’s public viewing gallery was both uplifting and significant; the breadth of backgrounds and experiences of the women occupying the space felt extremely powerful. It was truly an opportunity for the women of Wales to see themselves reflected in politics and to feel supported by a community in their journey to standing for public office.
A highlight of the Chamber session was Cllr. Sara Pickard’s speech on her pathway to becoming a Community Councillor for Pentyrch as someone with a disability. She talked about her experiences as an advocate for people with disabilities at a national and international level, reflecting on her role as a Disabled People’s Employment Champion with the Welsh Government and the work she’d done worldwide to campaign for change.
“I work for Mencap Cymru, which I feel very proud of; just to be able to champion the good work of any person, female or male or whatever it is, that has a learning disability - they can achieve anything in their lives and not be told they’re different.”
A day of networking and empowerment
After the Chamber session came to a close, the event attendees were invited to take part in a range of workshops across the Senedd building. The workshops, led by notable organisations such as Stonewall Cymru, Disability Wales and Race Alliance Wales, offered time for participants to explore the different avenues of involvement in Welsh Democracy. From how to get elected to becoming an activist, the content aimed to support women to best prepare for these roles. Every corner of the Senedd was animated with the exchanges of personal experiences and learnings from some of the most influential female figures in Wales.
As part of a workshop on activism in Wales, we had the privilege of hearing from Helen Pankhurst, women’s rights activist and great-granddaughter of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst. Helen talked about the significance of equal representation in parliaments, issues important to women today, and the kind of diversity she wants to see in the future.
“The richness of democracy, the power of democracy, is about representation. By definition it’s about the link between the citizens and those making the decisions – the policymakers. The more diverse the policymakers – the more representative of the society they are, and the richer, the more powerful, the more complete democracy is.”
How did “We Belong Here” impact the Senedd?
One of the Senedd’s biggest takeaways from the day was the importance of developing strong partnerships with organisations such as WEN Wales and Elect Her, so that future takeover events like We Belong Here are both meaningful and accessible to a hugely diverse audience of people in Wales.
The collaboration meant that the audience of women in the Senedd was truly representative of their communities and passionate about gender balance in politics.
We hope to continue this work with both partners and plan to develop more relationships like these, so that we can build upon our learning and support more people to engage in Welsh Democracy.