In 1977, Siân Gwenllian was elected as Deputy Leader of the Aberystwyth Guild of Students, giving her a first taste of life in politics. 39 years later, she would be elected as the member of the then-Welsh Assembly for the Arfon constituency. And on International Women’s Day, which this year focusses on the importance of equity, Siân Gwenllian has talked of her time in the political sphere, and her thoughts on how gender equality has progressed during that time.
“Campaigning for women’s rights and equality was central to my interest in politics whilst a student at Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities.I spent hours discussing the works of feminist writers of the time, and I had an opportunity to join protestors at Greenham Common after finishing college. That was a turning point for many women of my generation.”
“As Deputy Leader of the Aberystwyth Guild of Students, I was a member of Aberystwyth University’s Council and I remember being the only woman around a table full of men at that time. The then-Principal, Sir Goronwy Daniel, greeted us at the beginning of every meeting with: “Gentlemen and, oh … Miss Gwenllian.” This was like waving a red flag in front of a bull – and he knew it very well!”
In 2008 Siân realised a life’s ambition and was elected councillor for y Felinheli, the village she was brought up in. “When I became a county councillor in 2008, only a small minority of women were county councillors. At one point, I was the only woman on the Cabinet of Cyngor Gwynedd (nothing much had changed since the days of Goronwy Daniel!) and although I was friends with many of my fellow male colleagues, I didn’t feel as though I belonged.”
“But thanks to effective campaigning by Plaid Cymru women in Gwynedd, the situation is starting to change. I was very proud of the fact that we succeeded in inspiring a cohort of energetic and immensely talented women to join Cyngor Gwynedd at the 2022 elections.”
After eight years as a councillor and six as a cabinet member, Siân put herself forward to be selected as Plaid Cymru’s candidate following Alun Ffred’s retirement as the Assembly Member for the Arfon constituency. She won her party’s support and was elected in May 2016. In 2021, she was re-elected with a vote share higher than any other candidate in Wales.
Times are changing
“Things are changing – much too slowly! Speaking on the floor of the Senedd for the first time in 2016 was a more comfortable experience than speaking in the Council for the first time, because half the Parliament are women and there is a strong sense of sisterhood. This in turn means that there is more emphasis on matters that affect the lives of women – women’s health, childcare, violence against women. There is a much higher awareness now about misogyny, the hatred of women and the way it permeates into all aspects of our lives.”
Siân Gwenllian is Plaid Cymru’s Lead Designated Member in her party’s Co-operation Agreement with the Welsh Government. She believes the Agreement will lead to meaningful change in gender equality.
“I am delighted with the progress that is happening through the Co-operation Agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, with expanding free childcare a clear priority. I am also proud that we will be introducing legislation to create a larger Senedd with equal numbers in terms of gender. This will ensure through statute that women and men’s voices will be heard in equal measures – which will lead to a better Wales for everyone.”
A better Wales for everyone
The MS for Arfon recognises that many challenges face women and girls in all walks of life, and has taken advantage of International Women’s Day to call for societal change. “The patriarchal society in which we live promotes power for men over women. This power is expressed in its most extreme form through violence against women, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse.”
“But more and more women (and men) are challenging this behaviour. This means that many organisations are adapting and creating robust processes and policies in response to the momentum behind this cultural change. It is a significant step – and is beneficial to all.”
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