BLOG: “The best thing I’ve done for myself since I came to Bangor” – Diverse5050

Thursday April 27th, 2023
Group photo of the event's speakers from left to right: Joys Njini, Llinos Medi, Evelyn James, Margaret Ogunbanwo, Catrin Wager

On Friday 14th April, the Diverse5050 campaign came to Bangor for an inspirational and informative event, kindly hosted by the North Wales Africa Society. The second in a series of regional meetings in grassroots communities across Wales, speakers and attendees gathered to connect, mobilise, and champion women’s roles in Welsh democracy.

The event’s speakers included Plaid Cymru’s Council Leader for Ynys Môn Llinos Medi, entrepreneur and businesswoman Margaret Ogunbanwo, former councillor and Plaid Cymru’s current candidate for Arfon Catrin Wager, and from WEN Wales, Equal Power Equal Voice (EPEV) mentoring project manager Joys Njini and Diverse5050 Campaign Manager Evelyn James. Evelyn kicked off the meeting by explaining to attendees why the Diverse5050 campaign had come to Bangor, and the importance of building stronger connections in communities across Wales to achieve the ultimate aim of the campaign – diverse and equal leadership throughout Wales’ political institutions that is gender balanced, with meaningful representation from people who are from a Black, Asian & ethnic minority background, disabled people, LGBT+ people and people within other protected characteristics.

“We’re here to ensure that representation in leadership is reflective of the diverse communities here in Wales” – Evelyn James, Diverse5050 Campaign Manager

Evelyn’s passionate introduction was ably followed by Joys presenting the EPEV mentoring programme to the gathered attendees. EPEV is a cross-equalities mentoring scheme aimed at seeing more Black, Asian and ethnic minority people, women, LGBTQ+ people and disabled people in decision making positions in Wales. The mission? To diversify Welsh public and political life. Find out more about the programme here, and look out for the launch of applications for the next cohort of mentees in the coming weeks. Joys explained how EPEV has supported mentees to become local councillors, set up their own businesses, become trustees, and join public boards.

“I am privileged to be in a position where I see the course of people’s lives change before my very eyes” – Joys Njini, EPEV Project Manager

A recurring theme at the Bangor event was the importance of networks – Evelyn, who calls herself ‘a product of EPEV’, talked enthusiastically about the network she was able to build through the programme after arriving in Wales as an international student with no existing links in the country. Evelyn’s situation was one that a number of attendees in the room were able to relate to as students at Bangor University. Catrin, up next, also emphasised the continued importance of community and networks as she discussed her political journey, including her time as a local councillor.

As a councillor Catrin was able to raise issues that other councillors, with the best of intentions, were not aware of – due to her own lived experience. This is why diversity of representation is so important, and Catrin encouraged all in the room to use their voice, knock on doors, and get out there to make themselves heard.

“You can bring your life experience to the table, and that’s something that’s really needed in politics” – Catrin Wager

This advice was also given by the next speaker, Margaret Ogunbanwo, a business owner and entrepreneur who took questions on setting up her own business in north Wales.

“To make change, we need courage – push doors, ask questions. Don’t accept the status quo” – Margaret Ogunbanwo

Margaret discussed the importance of having a seat at the table to influence and make real change beyond tokenism, in relation to her experience on the board of the food and drink industry body in Wales. Once again, the power of networks emerged as a key theme.

Llinos Medi, who became Ynys Môn’s youngest ever female councillor when first elected, is now Ynys Môn’s first female council leader. Starting the story with her working class background, she took us through her journey overcoming personal and professional barriers to reach her current position and the changes she has been able to make to the lives of Ynys Môn’s constituents along the way. While reflecting on her own approach to leadership and the ways in which it has led to positive change, she declared that “politics is only dirty if you make it so”, and advocated for the collaborative approach.

This collaborative approach was reflected in the room on the day – attendees engaged in wide-ranging discussions on the Welsh language, caring responsibilities, and barriers they face in their own lives to participation in politics. Speakers and attendees alike were left inspired and galvanised by the exchanges, with one attendee affirming that “this is the best thing I’ve done for myself since I came to Bangor,” and agreement echoing around the room.

It was an uplifting day full of new connections, meeting local women enthusiastic to become more involved in the political life of their community and in WEN’s wider work and campaigning. Keep an eye out for an announcement on our next Diverse5050 regional meeting soon to become part of an experience like this. You, like our attendees in Bangor, can stay up to date with WEN’s work by signing up for free here.

By Megan Evans

Group photo showing some of the speakers and attendees of the event, with flags from African nations in the background