By Maria Mellor
After losing their role as leader of a political party, you would imagine most people would take the opportunity to take a step back and enjoy having more spare time. Not Leanne Wood.
While she says she feels like she has been liberated from party leadership, she has been using her newfound freedom to focus on the issues that matter to her most.
The Welsh Assembly Member for Rhondda, 47, has helped set up a Time’s Up network in Wales to try and tackle problems relating to the sexual harassment and assault of women at a grassroots level.
“The idea is to pull people together, work out exactly what it is we need to change, and work out different ways in which we can apply political pressure,” Leanne said.
She recognises there is a problem in the system where either people report sexual assault and nothing comes of it, or people are too afraid to report it in the first place.
Leanne added: “Every time the system fails someone, that’s a blow to everybody else who could potentially be making a complaint.”
Being a mother has made Leanne even more aware of the issues the Time’s Up movement seeks to tackle. She has a 14-year-old daughter who she hopes will grow up in a better, more socially aware world.
She said: “We’re going to make damn sure that we’re not going to allow the next generation to go through what we’ve had to go through.”
The culture Leanne is familiar with is not only detrimental to the victims of sexual assault, but also women in general. She believes the fact that there is a fear of being assaulted, either in the workplace or in public spaces, has acted as a barrier to women’s success.
Women in politics
While the gender balance of the assembly members is nearly an even split – 47% are women – Leanne notices the lack of women in positions of power, especially now she has been replaced as leader of Plaid Cymru by Adam Price.
She believes diversity is important at all levels in politics, and without women in the top jobs, the Assembly is lacking this.
Leanne wants to encourage more people from different backgrounds to get into politics.
“There’s a lot of sameness in politics,” she said. “We all have a voice and I would encourage everyone to use that voice so that we don’t have our political space dominated by those voices of privilege.”
She believes women face particular challenges in politics that they must learn to overcome, such as sexist questions from the media.
“I get asked questions like ‘how difficult is it juggling a full-time responsible job with childcare and your responsibility as a mother, and that’s a question that never gets asked to dads in the same job.”
Additionally, Leanne has spoken out about the abuse that female politicians face online.
“There are people out there who want to silence voices,” she said.
Leanne says she can draw strength from the people who seek to silence her.
“If I get attacked, which I frequently do by those voices from the far right, I tend to gain strength from that and tell myself that I must be doing something right if I’m antagonising those people.”
If that fails, Leanne says she makes liberal use of the mute button.
Misogyny and far-right politics
Leanne Wood has been taking a stand against the mainstreaming of far-right politics in recent years, thanks to the likes of UKIP and Donald Trump.
She is currently reading the 1935 political novel It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, which sees the fictional election of a brutish president in the USA. Leanne says the novel has very close parallels to what is happening today.
“I see connections all over the place between the rhetoric of Donald Trump, of Nigel Farage, and seeing how fascism rose in the 1930s, and I just don’t think we can be too alert on this question now.”
She says working with Women’s Aid means she is even more aware of how far-right politics affect women, and the organisation has had a helpful impact on her personal politics.
“When I look at Donald Trump now I don’t just see someone who is mainstreaming far-right ideas, he’s also mainstreaming misogynistic ideas and actions as well.”
Leanne hopes that people in power will start to take these issues more seriously, and that her work with the Time’s Up network will help to make a positive change in society.