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New Statesman Literacy Week 2016

Welcome to the New Statesman's literacy week, discussing literature and literacy from policy to practice.

The word "literacy" means different things in different contexts. For many people, the first things that come to mind are books and reading, especially in childhood. But literacy can also mean financial or political literacy – having the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate money or your place in society.

For the New Statesman's 2016 Literacy Week, we're exploring the question of literacy from a variety of angles. We'll be looking at what it means to grow up with books, and conversely what it means when you can't read. We'll feature pieces from authors and young writers discussing the reading material which matters to them. And we'll be asking what can be done on a policy level to improve literacy, in schools and elsewhere.

I hope you enjoy the pieces below.

The trials and triumphs of learning to read in a second language, by Anoosh Chakelian and Yo Zushi
Two New Statesman staffers recount how they learned to read Armenian and English, respectively.

Why we need to improve education in prisons, for the benefit of everyone
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of The Howard League, on literacy for offenders.

How a sugar company taught be to read
Stephen Bush on dyslexia and the outreach programme that made him the person he is today.

Class and literacy, from Enid Blyton to Hoggart
Stephanie Boland on growing up in libraries.

The topics that taught me to read in spite of myself
Henry Zeffman and India Bourke on the things they loved to read about.

When it comes to literacy, millennials are a lost generation
Barbara Speed on our spending habits - and why young women, in particular, are losing out.

What literacy can do for children in institutions
Georgette Mulheir, CEO of J K Rowling's charity Lumos, on the children denied education – and how literacy can mend families.

From school books to publishing, black girls deserve better representation
They're the demographic most likely to read, says Varaidzo – so why are black girls not catered for?

How tackling poor literacy could benefit everyone
David Hughes, CEO of the Learning and Work Institute, on why devolved powers might be the key to change.

Why we should all be reading, and writing, about sex more
Joanna Walsh on "sex-literacy".

Bribes, brothers and books on the road: how we learnt to love reading
Barbara Speed, Anna Leszkiewicz and Phil Maughan.

How do we ensure disadvantaged voices are heard?
Kit de Waal on the cost of writing – and how she tried to help level the playing field.

Political literacy and why the public aren't stupid – even if politicians wish they were
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin discusses what it means for different people to understand politics.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.