The Liberal Democrats’ track record with female party activists has suffered in recent years after Lord Rennard was accused of sexual harassment. While the party have done their best since then to deal with the claims against the Lib Dem peer, they now face accusations of ‘gendered abuse’.
Steerpike understands that one of the party’s rising stars has stepped down from her role on the Federal Executive — the governing board of the Liberal Democrats — claiming that the party is not currently a safe place for women of colour.
Kavya Kaushik has written a post on her personal blog explaining her reasons for quitting the party. In this she criticises the Lib Dems, accusing the party of double standards when it comes to how they treat coloured women and how they treat white men. She says that this mistreatment became apparent on joining the FE:
‘After joining FE this became much worse with people constantly telling me that I should have a different standard of behaviour as a member of FE. I received a call from a senior party figure telling me to watch what I say because I am a senior party activist.
My outspoken white male friend on FE regularly speaks his mind and tweets stupid stuff. He has never received a call policing his behaviour or thoughts.’
Kaushik goes on to allege that when she raised concerns about the people who targeted her with ‘gendered abuse’, her concerns were not adequately dealt with:
‘When I have raised my concerns with the leadership, and named people who have targeted me with gendered abuse I was told “Oh but that’s just how so and so is” or “Is this is first time he’s upset you? You’re so lucky!”
In what shape or form is that an acceptable reaction? I believe people have been “spoken to” about my concerns but the intrinsic culture to treat Women of Colour as “fair game” remains unchallenged.’
While party sources claim that members also complained about Kaushik’s conduct, she says that the experience left her feeling as though there were no safe spaces in the Lib Dems for women of colour:
‘Take a moment to consider, why are spaces in the Lib Dems not safe for women of colour? Why do we hold double standards to their behaviour? And what will you personally do to change this?’
A Lib Dem spokesman says that the party are sorry to hear Kavya is leaving and that they investigate all complaints:
‘Nothing ever justifies abuse or intimidation, and it is also not right for anyone is held to a different standard because of who they are, what they look like, or who they love.
The party has made great steps forward in the way we investigate and respond to complaints. We are shortly launching new codes of conduct for members, staff and others about interaction online. All members should feel safe to report and highlight aggressive and abusive behaviour– which has no place in the Liberal Democrats.’
While Kaushik says the issue is not institutional racism or sexism in the party but instead the result of a lack of BME people in the leadership which leads to a lack of awareness, it will no doubt add to the beleaguered party’s woes. After all, Tim Farron has previously complained that his party is already ‘too male and too pale‘.