Friday, 24 April 2015

A 21st Century Call for Votes for Women

Yes, I'm the one with the 50:50 T-shirt on, looking like I've nodded off (of course am actually writing something very important)

This isn't the first post I have written whilst teetering on the edge of my political soapbox, however it is the first time I have had the privilege to feature on this blog the brilliant 50:50 campaign. Just 3 weeks ago, I guest posted on Mumsnet about lack of gender equality in the Commons and asked readers to sign the petition to ask for a debate in Parliament about improving gender equality. It was easily one of the best blogging experiences of my relatively short career in the art of bearing my soul via social media. However, it did come with a word count. So I would like to take this opportunity to publish the article in it's full glory. I warn you that these statistics may make you angry, please read on, get cross and put that energy to good use, by signing the petition

Forget MI5 - its the House of Commons who should be recruiting from Mumsnet

'When it comes to politics, I certainly don’t profess to having the solution to broken Britain, I doubt if I could cut the deficit and I’m not sure I have ever read an entire party manifesto, so what could I, the mother of 2 small boys, possibly bring to the parliamentary table?

Well actually, thinking about it, motherhood has unwittingly pitched me headfirst into running the gauntlet of Britain’s core infrastructure. Whilst pregnant I was offered numerous opportunities to experience and evaluate every aspect of the NHS. This was comprehensively completed, firstly with my local GP and 2 local hospitals. Post birth I received Health Visitors, attended my local children’s centres and maintained frequent trips to my GP. I intently researched affordable childcare and am fresh from a recent study of our education system, having toured round all my local primary schools for my son’s school application. At home, I am the main consumer in terms of shopping and well, actually everything excluding cars. I know the cost of a pint of milk across a variety of outlets and have witnessed firsthand the impact of economic policy on our household bills.

The very act of having a child has given me a crash course in all things politicians generally have a strong hand in affecting, improving or reducing. So surely this sets me up as quite well qualified to go forth into the political landscape? Of course I can’t be the first mother to suddenly feel a political fire in their belly so why isn’t the House of Commons fit to bursting with Mothers? In fact looking at parliament, forget mothers for a moment, where are the women? There are currently a total of 650 MPs in parliament but just 23% of these are women and only half of our female MPs have children. Just 12% of MPs are mothers making us sorely under-represented. There are more male MPs currently than there have ever been women members of parliament, leaving the skill set of half the UK population unrecognised and un-utilised.

Even business Secretary Vince Cable has been pressing for Company boards to include more women because of the benefits it brings, so why is Parliament still so unbalanced? Certainly any parent who saw the BBC2 documentary ‘Inside the Commons’ would have been appalled to watch MP Jenny Willott having to negotiate the back alleys of Westminster with her buggy. Likewise when Labour front bencher Rachel Reeves, who will become Work and Pensions Secretary should Labour win the general election, recently hit the headlines discussing her post-election maternity leave prompting a Tory MP to question her ability to give the job her ‘full attention'. Couple this with the fact that female MPs experience twice the amount of media intrusion than men, it hardly sells the possibility of living the dream by working in politics.

However, the recent addition of an onsite nursery would suggest Parliament is moving in the right direction. I have no doubt being an MP with small children is tricky but what job isn't when you’re struggling with the brain crushing fatigue that comes with owning preschoolers? Also motherhood simply cannot be the reason for the woeful under representation of women. Why? The average age of an MP is 50 therefore childcare, generally but not exclusively, is an unlikely time constraint for this older demographic. Likewise men are also parents and this appears to have no impact on their political presence.

In that same documentary we also saw Rotherham MP Sarah Champion positively giddy with delight having achieved an amendment to a bill that increased protection for children from sexual abuse which surely is up there with saving lives, in terms of job satisfaction?  David Cameron has said " This is fantastically important.. we need to do more, much more", and Ed Milliband seems to agree, saying "the reason representation matters is because it shapes the policies a government introduces and how they impact on women in the country". Who would have thought today the suffragette mantra ‘Deeds not Words’ is starkly applicable. Of course my rambling evangelising how great politics could be is not the solution. If it was as simple as a rousing speech then we would be there already. 

There are lots of things they could do, too: all women shortlists or quotas, job shares, twinning constituencies, or even or having two seat constituencies, where the voters elect one male and one female candidate to represent them. The Director of the Hansard Society Ruth Fox has suggested this issue is "too important to leave to the parties", and that there is a case for constitutionalising equal representation. There are viable options on the table, and we need to be seriously considering them.

To achieve parity we need 177 more women MPs from a population of 32 million, around 1 in 100,000. So even if this career choice does not suit everyone, it doesn't have to. If I could walk into the House of Commons with the 176 other women required to create an equal parliament I would do it tomorrow. In the mean time my efforts are focused on our best chance for achieving political equality: the 50:50 campaign is petitioning for a debate and action to get better gender balance in the House of Commons, and to find the solution to finally give women political equality. To sign and share this petition click HERE  and let’s spark a debate and bring equality to the commons.

To read the Mumsnet post please click HERE

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