OPINION - The reason I wouldn't stand to be an MP? Because it would make me fear for my life

 (Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)
(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

Last week I was asked why I was not standing in the general election. Without hesitation, I said: “Because I don’t want to die.” When I saw the look on the face of the journalist who had asked me, I knew being so honest about why I was not standing was a shock to him and the three other men in the room. But it shouldn’t be. It is not just difficult, but extremely dangerous being a woman in politics today.

Seven years ago I stood for the Women’s Equality Party at the general election. The party was left of centre and was calling for equality at the heart of our country. What a non-offensive thing, you would think, but sadly my mere rejection of the two mainstream political parties drew a lot of attention and attacks in the leafy London constituency I was standing in.

At hustings, people would turn up just to scream at me for having the audacity to stand. This was okay. I could deal with a few pricks shouting at me I thought. But when death threats came in, it was harder to deal with. It still hurts thinking back to those dark days, when I would drag myself out of bed and out on to the streets of north London to do another day of campaigning. Having faced backlash before for the work I do on FGM I knew how to talk myself into acting like everything was okay, when deep down I knew at any moment I could lose my life just for standing up for women and girls.

That fear I felt during that time and being so exposed in a community that was not mine is something I will never forget and the reason I fear going into politics again. In the past eight years, two MPs have been killed, individuals have been imprisoned for threatening multiple MPs, and there have been incidents such as arson attacks, shattered windows and online threats. Despite this, there is still ridicule and dismissal when primarily female MPs need or want to enhance their security.

In this general election, just 30 per cent of candidates are women — this is setting a bleak precedent for the future

Last week, Labour candidate Rosie Duffield pulled out of a hustings because she felt unsafe, which is understandable to anyone who has seen what is posted about her on X. But it seems members of her own party — along with others in the constituency — refused to take her concerns seriously. They berated her on social media and said it was “undemocratic” for her not to attend a hustings where she felt her safety was threatened.

She was right not to attend. The truth is, what is undemocratic is how little we care about the safety of female candidates, because the threats to them are real and relentless.

Outside my own experience and the experiences of others I have seen online, I have also been present with former home secretary Dame Priti Patel and others when they have been accosted on the streets of London. Dame Priti, Duffield and others are better than me, because in the face of abuse they have refused to give up. They are standing in this election, they care about their communities and are doing their duty, not only of standing for election but also standing up for so many others.

And as great as it is to see that, it should not be like this — you should not have to put on an extra level of resilience in order to be a woman who wants to take part in our democracy. A democracy which, if the polls are right, will have fewer women in Parliament this year than the ones before. Just 30 per cent of candidates at this election are women, according to figures from the campaign group 50:50 Parliament. This is setting a precedent for the future of this country which is bleak.

Bleak because with the rise of far-Right politicians what we need is more progressive women in our Parliament, not fewer.

But to keep the few we have, those of us who believe our country is better with women like Duffield, Dame Priti and Stella Creasy — who is also facing horrific abuse from anti-abortion activists — we need do go out and campaign for them and with them.

And if you can’t physically go out to support them, then please send them some love on social media or write to them, because I can tell you myself that getting a kind message during the campaign trail can make an incredible difference to these women, who are dealing with so much every single day.

Nimco Ali is an activist and Evening Standard columnist