Women’s forum across 3 CLPs takes Sharma to task over support for ‘focus on the physical attributes of women’
Ealing Southall MP Virendra Sharma has been criticised by the women of his own constituency party (CLP) and the a women’s group across all three Ealing CLPs for participating in a video to support a beauty pageant candidate. One of the local women members described the appearance as ‘creepy’, particularly the mention of ‘personal satisfaction’.
Sharma appeared in a video promoting Rebecca Sinnarajah’s bid for the Miss England title:
In response to the video, the Ealing Southall CLP women’s forum wrote to Sharma to ask him to explain why he was endorsing a participant in a contest that sexualises women and “promote[s] unrealistic standards of beauty which can contribute to the development of eating disorders and other mental health issues”:
A group of women from all three CLPs in the borough also wrote to Sharma:
Dear Mr Sharma
The Women’s forum in Ealing were recently sent a video you appeared in supporting Rebecca Sinnaraja, a semi-finalist in the Miss England so called ‘Beauty Contest’. In the video you are heard saying you will support and follow Rebecca and that this is something for young people in West London to look up to.
So called Beauty Contests were banned from terrestrial TV in the 1980’s after decades of protest by women. Women protested because of the demeaning nature of these events where women are paraded and the proportions of their bodies studied for imperfections. ‘Talents’ are usually singing or twirling or some kind. The whole event underlines that the value of women is their sexual attractiveness and entertainment value. Further the event promotes unrealistic standards of beauty, the idea of a perfect and imperfect body linked to low esteem for women and eating disorders.
It is all the more surprising then that this contestant is purportedly doing this in the cause of ‘mental health awareness’ and displays the green ribbon logo of the same. Mental Health awareness is a campaign run by several mental charities in May. The video was made in late July and it is entirely unclear why Rebecca is displaying this logo or what the link is to Mental Health. It is doubtful that any of the mental health charities involved in Mental Health Awareness would want to be associated with Miss England.
The likes of Donald Trump and other extreme misogynists support such competitions, they are reviled by all mainstream politicians. It is deeply troubling then that a Labour MP in 2020 should support this so called ‘competition’.
We invite you to withdraw your support for the Miss England Competition and call out it’s inherent misogyny and support organisations such as Southall Black Sisters who actually support women.
Ealing Womens’ Forum
Alison McGarry ,London Labour Party Regional Executive Women’s Officer
Marsha De Cordova MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities
Debbie Allan, BAME officer of neighbouring Ealing North CLP, who has had personal experience of beauty contests, has also written to Sharma in a personal capacity:
Dear Mr Sharma
I am supporting the letter of concern from Rheian Davies outlining your connection to a beauty pageant.
Women should not have to display their bodies in order to be taken seriously as fundraisers, business woman, humans.
I personally have been involved in such activities. Naively, as a young woman. I came third, but the experience made me realise that no women should have to use her body as a platforms on such serious issues, on any issue. Women should be heard and be invited to discussion panels based on their subject matter knowledge and passion to resolve societal issues. Nobody knows the cat-fights, body-shaming and predatory behaviours that goes on behind the scenes. I do.
Historically women of colour were not welcome at these events and the ideal of beauty is still very eurocentric. I remember having to pile on layers of make up.. Even on my thighs (for the bikini walk) pretending to be perfect and lighter skinned as men ogled. Trust me those eyes were not concerned about charity fund raising.
Please can you advise if and when you completed diversity training in order to have an understanding that this connection with beauty pageant is not appropriate or progressive for labour to be connected with something like this.
BAME Officer, Ealing North CLP
And one of the elected officers of Sharma’s CLP has added her voice:
Dear Mr Sharma,
I am one of your female constituents and a Labour Party member, being the only female [branch] chair of Ealing Southall. I also sit on the London Labour Party Regional Exec. I am an active member of Ealing Labour Women’ forum.
I grew up in a working class community in the South Wales Valleys. Women of my age have fought many battles and misogyny was rife, I was not allowed to study woodwork, metal work or tech drawing. Despite my coming top in all sciences boys has the first dibs on O’level science classes and girls only allowed after the boys had chosen. I battled with my school as a young woman on womens’ liberation.
In many of the working men’s and Labour clubs at the time women were not allowed in the bar or to use the pool table. In some only men were allowed to buy drinks. This is the world I grew up in.
In 1985, when I was 16 a documentary was aired called Ms Rhymney Valley. It was 8 months into the miners strike and told the story of our communities struggles with the Thatcher government, the central story was how women challenged the Miss Rhymney Valley so called beauty contest and said we should be judged by our character and contribution to our communities. The women won on this point and the men had to recognise the magnificent role that women had played in the strike. This documentary was inspirational to me as I saw women who looked and sounded like me challenge the men but also hold their heads up high in class struggle. I recommend you watch it one day.
The so called Beauty Competitions were banned from terrestrial TV in the 80’s after decades of protest by women.
It is then very disappointing to me that 35 years later that you have used your platform as a Labour MP to support a Miss England contestant and go on to say this is something that young people in West London should look up to. Your contribution starts at 2:57.
In my view the proud anti-racist history of Southall, women in struggle such as the Grunwick Strikers, is something to look up to or more recently the Southall Black Sisters.
Look at the video for Miss England 2020 and see how the women have to parade up and down slowly so their figures can be studied.
It is even more astonishing that this is done in the name of ‘Mental Health Awareness’ . A logo, Im sure the contestant has not sought permission to use as no mental health organisation would want to be associated with Miss England. These so-called beauty contests set unrealistic standards of beauty and are linked to womens’ low self esteem and eating disorders.
I have worked as a psychiatric nurse for 15 years, a mental health lawyer for 14 and head up the legal team at a large Mental Health Charity. You are aware of this and have never asked me once about how we can make the lives of those suffering mental ill health better. The well being day you ran in Southall was sponsored by McDonalds.
If you want to look at how you can use your position as a Labour MP to help the cause of good mental health I can sign post you to suitable organisations.
If you want to study women’s vital statistics please meet with the magnificent Southall Black Sisters who will tell you how many women are abused and left homeless in Ealing Southall because of systematic racism and misogyny.
I suggest you withdraw your support for Miss England and make a donation to the Southall Black Sisters as a measure of solidarity with women in your constituency.
CCAlison McGarry – London LP Womens Officer
Marsha De Cordeva – Shadow Minister for Equalities
Onkar Sihota – Chair of Ealing Southall CLP
Sharma had not responded to any of these messages at the time of publication. However, he did respond to a SKWAWKBOX request for comment:
Rebecca is a local resident and a constituent, I have known her family for many years and they are friends. I am pleased to support her in her chosen path, one she is using to raise awareness of the importance of mental health for children and young people. Rebecca is also using her platform to raise money for action on climate change , climate justice and mental health issues . While there are plenty of issues with beauty pageants I am pleased to support a young woman doing what she wants.
Virendra Sharma has had a troubled history with local members and residents. He was one of a handful of Labour MPs ‘triggered’ last year to face a selection contest, in spite of an attempt to have the trigger vote annulled, with the result reinstated by party. Earlier in the year he had lost a vote of no-confidence tabled by members, yet was ultimately reimposed by Labour’s NEC for last December’s election.
In 2017, local residents had campaigned for him to be replaced as their candidate in that year’s general election, but Sharma was imposed because of the short notice given for the election. He also faces court action by a local hospitality venue over an unpaid bill that he tried to charge to local members.
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