The Women’s Equality Party, with a strong presence in South London, was ‘best of the rest’ in the recent elections for the Greater London Assembly. Simone Richardson talked to WEP candidate Maureen Ngozi Obi-Ezekpazu about the election, her life and lockdown
Six of 20 candidates in the recent election for Mayor of London were women.
Rough and ready research by the Blog puts the number of women candidates in the 14 Greater London Assembly (GLA) constituency-based elections at 36 out of 78 – just under half.
For the 11 assembly seats which are elected London-wide from party lists, the 18 parties contesting them put forward 95 male candidates and 74 women – about 43%.
Take away the 13 female candidates standing for the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) in the lists vote, and the proportion of women standing for the 17 other parties falls to below 40%.
One of those 13 was barrister Maureen Ngozi Obi-Ezekpazu. With only 11 London-wide seats up for grabs, even if the WEP had won every one, Maureen would not have become a Greater London Assembly member – she was twelfth on the WEP’s list.
But she was standing to make a point.
“Take a glance back and take note of what life for Londoners has been,” she said in her manifesto.
“What is clear is that equality for women has not been achieved affecting the quality of life of the individual Londoner.
“A new way is necessary as the old traditional ways are not effective.
“The new way is putting equality at the centre of everything.”
A human rights lawyer and the single mother of three children, Maureen is London born and bred with Nigerian heritage.
She grew up in West London’s Ladbroke Grove, moved North to Arsenal, went to school in Tottenham, and now lives South of the River in Vauxhall.
She is a regular visitor to Brixton: “I love the fresh food markets that I pay regular visits to, and used to enjoy the social life with live music like Upstairs at The Ritzy which is still immensely missed and I hope reopens soon,” she says.
Maureen has run businesses from home over many years to keep together her own body and soul and those of her children.
She stayed on at school to enter the sixth form and was the first ever student of her school to attain grade A in law.
“This grade was instrumental in my choosing a career in law,” she says.
“I moved on from Tottenham School to Waltham Forest technical college where I studied a BTec business diploma in law.
“After I left college, I worked as an accounts assistant at a firm of solicitors in Stoke Newington for one year, but my burning desire to become a lawyer took me off on another wonderful journey of education.
“I was chosen to participate in the very first access to law course set up between Vauxhall College and South Bank Polytechnic, as it was then, and City Polytechnic.”
The one-year course guaranteed successful students a place on a law degree course at one of the two then polytechnics.
“I began my law degree at South Bank. I was fortuitous to be chosen to participate in an American exchange trip,” Maureen recalls
“Eight wonderful weeks spent in the USA. And, Oh! what a tumultuous time was had.”
Maureen loved her law studies “because it was an interactive degree course – apart from learning legal principles, I got to see how the law worked first hand – both during the American exchange trip and in my final year, when I took part in a housing surgery most weeks, helping real people with real issues around housing.”
Today, “I call myself a human rights and family lawyer.
“I am here to help, and every case I am involved in, I like to think that I leave all involved much better than when I began my journey with them. ‘Do no harm’ is my mantra and for the highest good of all concerned.
“Oh, and Love is all – there is nothing else. Keeping to these principles allows me to work with the most vulnerable people.”
Her work consists of many things including being a barrister in the family justice system.
“My passion is raising the awareness around the importance of emotional intelligence and resilience as life skills and a foundation for success,” she says.
You can find out more about this aspect of Maureen’s work and the emotional intelligence workshops she runs on her website.
Already operating from home when lockdown began, Maureen “survived sensibly,” she says.
“What got me through was my everyday sense of appreciation of all things concerning me, I have been blessed and continue to be.
With lockdown, “something has definitely shifted,” Maureen believes.
“I am yet to determine whether this is positive or not. What I will say is that I appreciate so much more everything there is about the community – an inner strength, spirit, love, and kindness – wherever it is it has helped us all move through this experience that is called lockdown.”
While neither Maureen nor any of her Women’s Equality Party colleagues was elected, the WEP was top of the non-mainstream parties in the GLA election.
Its total of 55,684 votes was fifth overall behind Labour, Conservatives, Greens and Lib Dems, and ahead of Rejoin EU, Animal Welfare, and 11 other parties.