Guest post: "Why parliament needs more mothers"
Posted on: Mon 30-Mar-15 12:09:55
(29 comments )
When it comes to politics, I certainly don't profess to have the solution for ‘broken Britain’. So, as a mother of two small boys, apart from a vested interest in building them a better future, what could I possibly bring to the parliamentary table?
Actually, motherhood has launched me into the centre of Britain's public services and infrastructure. Whilst pregnant I was given plenty of opportunity to experience and evaluate every aspect of the NHS: my local GP, two local hospitals, Health Visitors, and then, when they were a bit older, my local children's centres. I researched affordable childcare options, and have just completed a comprehensive study of our primary education system, having spent hours touring local schools for my son's application.
I also happen to be the main consumer in our house, in charge of everything from the supermarket shop to the gas bill. I - unlike some male MPs - know the cost of a pint of milk (and a packet of mince, and a tin of beans) across a variety of outlets, and I know what impact this government's economic policy has had on our household bills.
Motherhood, in short, has given me a crash course in all the things politicians generally have a strong hand in affecting, improving or reducing. Surely this makes me pretty well qualified to go forth and make my mark on the political landscape? I can't be the first mother to feel a political fire in their belly, so why isn't the House of Commons full of us? In fact, where are all the women?
There are currently a total of 650 MPs in parliament, and just 23% of these are female. Of these, only half have children. Just 12% of MPs are mothers, which leave us sorely under-represented and under-utilised. 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?
Motherhood, in short, has given me a crash course in all the things politicians generally have a strong hand in affecting, improving or reducing.
I was appalled when I watched MP Jenny Willott negotiating the back alleys of Westminster with her buggy in BBC2's recent documentary Inside the Commons – and the abuse she got on Twitter for daring to have kids whilst being a member of parliament. I was outraged, too, when Labour front bencher Rachel Reeves - who will become Work and Pensions Secretary should Labour win the general election - recently hit the headlines because she'd mentioned her post-election maternity leave, prompting a Tory MP to question her ability to give the job her 'full attention'. Couple these blatant displays of discrimination with the fact that female MPs experience twice the amount of media intrusion men do, and it's easy to see why there aren't women queuing up to ‘live the dream’ and work in politics.
I've no doubt that being an MP with small children is difficult, but what job isn't when you're struggling with the brain-crushing fatigue that comes with having preschoolers? Motherhood should not be used as an ‘excuse’ for the woeful under-representation of women in parliament, not least because the average age of an MP is 50 - a time when most parents' children will have a bit more independence. And of course, a man having children is not perceived to have any impact on his political career at all, except increased opportunity for cheesy, 'every man' photo ops.
On the issue of getting more women in parliament 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". But the suffragette mantra of ‘Deeds not Words’ is still starkly applicable - we need politicians to take action on this, rather than just pay lip-service.
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 only need 177 more women MPs from a population of 32 million. 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. But in the meantime, I believe our best chance of getting this issue on the agenda is to sign the 50:50 campaign's petition. We're asking parliament to debate all the options for redressing the gender imbalance, and we'd love your support.
By Annika Eade
Women and mothers are not synonymous.
Did you mean to write an article suggesting women with children are, by default, more worthy of a seat in parliament than their childfree sisters?
Thanks Annika for great article!
All women are worthy of seats in Parliament and better representation. Representation shapes policy.
There have only ever been 370 women MPs and were 502 men with seats in the last Parliament, so there were more men in Parliament than there have ever been women. It is a historic problem.
Please everyone support the 50:50 Parliament Petition asking for a debate and action about this important issue.
Women are a majority in life but a minority in Parliament. Women are 51% of the population, 51% of experience and expertise.
Over the last 3 elections there were on average 8 extra women MPs, at this rate it will take 100 years to have better gender balance.
The All Party Parliamentary Group Report Improving Parliament says " All political parties are united in their belief that gender parity is critical to having a modern, aspirational and representative Parliament" so let's ask them to sort it out, one way or another, sooner rather than later. Please sign.
Your article doesn't make any sense as you talk about "women" and "mothers" as though the two terms are interchangeable. I do not agree that women who have given birth would make better politicians than childless or childfree women. That's just as bad in my view as saying that men make better politicians than women.
So mothers as MPs would be better than childfree women? Ta for that.
Do fathers make better MPs than other men?
Sex (though perhaps in this context it is gender) and parenthood are not interchangeable.
Well, I'd love to be an MP but as a lone parent there's no way I could make it work logistically. Male or female, lone parents just couldn't make it work unless they were 100% London based.
As a 'mother' you know about schools and shopping? And that's why women should be in parliament? Sexist much?
As long as we continue splitting everyday activities like shopping and childcare along gender lines the imbalance of power between genders at the highest levels will continue. Can you not see the link?
No, we need more men to step up to the domestic plate (assuming your partner is male, why isn't he the main - or at least equal - consumer in your house)? And if and when we do, yes we will see more women who have had children in positions of influence and power. Probably we'll see more men inconvenienced by the sheer hassle and tedium of parenthood too.
Parliament needs more women.
Workplaces throughout the UK need more - and more gender-neutral - positive policies towards parenting.
Men need to step up to the plate and do their share of the domestic and child-rearing stuff.
Possibly - just possibly, though it's a very iffy contention - parliament needs more parents.
This really doesn't boil down to Parliament needs more mothers.
This has really ground my gears because it's a cause I very much believe in. I think it does show yet again that these 'guest posts' aren't really hitting the spot MNHQ.
It also shows that repurposing articles to suit an audience you don't really understand is something you do at your peril - this is clearly an existing article on 'women in parliament' re-cut for 'the mums'. Tut tut.
To be clear, the cause I believe in is equal gender representation in parliament. Not mums make great MPs cos of, you know, shopping and stuff.
...and some 'mums' have really quite well-functioning brains that operate independently of their reproductive organs.
Having children did not make me a nicer, more understanding or generally Better Person. (It did make me a nastier, fatter, shorter-tempered one, but I am going to ignore that for now.) I would, please, like to be considered on my various merits separate from my parturitive performance.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and for posting your comments. It's really greatly appreciated indeed!
I completely agree with you LonnyVonnyWilsonFric
'I can't be the first mother to feel a political fire in their belly, so why isn't the House of Commons full of us? In fact, where are all the women'
But again, apologies if this was unclear.
TamzinGrey & SunshineBossaNova - Of course mothers are no better qualified for politics than women without children. However, I can only draw on my own feelings and my own journey and that's how I chose to start this article and I then moved on to talking about women in general. If these two points became blurred it was certainly not my intention.
Farahilda - I absolutely agree, parenthood and gender are not interchangeable. Again I hope I have clarified that when I made the point: '[motherhood] makes me pretty well qualified to go forth and make my mark on the political landscape' I was referring only to myself.
Temporaryanonymity thank you so much for highlighting this, this is a huge issue that essentially rules out any single parent from politics, an entire group of people with 0 representation. There needs to be significant change to facilitate and support everyone wanting to go into politics, something that I hope this petition will assist in actioning.
Thank you so much for all of your comments, I do hope I have responded in full although if not please do come back to me. Most importantly, motherhood aside, women are not currently fairly represented in the House of Commons and this needs to change so please take a moment to sign the petition. Many thanks again!
Ooh some more comments have popped up, leave it with me!
OK, so you had babies and then got interested in politics. It's a slightly odd way round, and frankly I would imagine that anyone who's genuinely politically active will pre-date having children....
Once again, I really appreciate all your points of view so thanks again for taking to time to come on here and post!
PomeralLights I'm sorry if you think I am being sexist talking about myself and my life. That is genuinely the opposite of the point I was trying to make. I was purely talking about my own experience and wouldn't dream of suggesting that this is the case across the board.
motherinferior thank you for making the fantastic point about men needing to step up to the domestic plate, I completely agree. Also I profusely apologise if you thought I was questioning any woman's brain function in conjunction with their reproductive capacity. Of course these are mutually exclusive! Having children has definitely not made me a Better person, it has, however, given me political interest and a little more confidence.
Once again I hope I have responded to you all in full, thank you so much again!
Hi motherinferior thank you, you may think my interests are rather back to front. It takes roughly (but not exclusively) 10 years to become an MP and the average age of an MP is 50 and I'm 35. It might be 'a slightly odd way round' but we are all individuals. We all have experiences which motivate us to think about things differently and, for me, that trigger was becoming a mother.
I agree with previous posts re the slightly mumsy tone (sorry!) but I do urge people to click on the link and read the little forward bit to the petition anyway (less mum focussed!)
I'm not sure I agree about 'genuine' political activism having to predate children.
Yes I was always interested in politics but not active.
Before I had kids my income didn't have to go so far. I'd never been an inpatient in hospital, hadn't had to think about childcare costs, cuts to children's centres, parental leave policies, education in detail. Suddenly all these issues became important to me.
Since having children, I'm a governor of my local hospital, an active member of my local political party and frequent campaigner on local issues.
I'm not saying this makes mothers more qualified to be politicians, just that the idea that you have to have a burning political passion from your tender years to be 'genuine' is silly.
Many politicians cite specific issues or events that made them decide to do something this is no different.
As for the number of mothers (not women) in parliament, I do agree it would be good to have more. Not because they'd be any likely to do a better job but just to make it more representative of the population.
Politics is not very welcoming to mothers, it must be said, even at the grassroots level. Very few party events have creches or even decent facilities for making up bottles, etc - we had the selection meeting for the local MP a few weeks back and when they were canvassing the candidates all hoped I could find childcare and attend. There was no suggestion I should bring the baby with me (I did, but if I was a new member I probably wouldn't have felt confident enough to do so).
Having a baby really opened my eyes to the barriers to mums specifically (I was already well versed in the barriers faced by women in general...) I couldn't believe that maternity leave has only been guaranteed for local government councillors since about 2013. It really reflects the lack of diversity imo - elected officials obviously care about parental rights, but it's so rare to have a pregnant councillor / AM / MP / etc that it just hadn't been addressed.
Then you have the intrusion issue. I think, speaking generally, women are made to feel guiltier about 'exposing' their children to media scrutiny. It's okay for a man to be in politics and mum to be home keeping the children's life 'normal' (whatever that is), but reverse the situation and it's a different story. I worry even as a local councillor about the fact my address, etc, is all public domain. The higher up the ladder you go, the worse it must be.
(I don't really 'get' all the vitriol you've received for this post by the way. If you're writing a post for /mums/net surely it makes sense that the focus would be skewed towards women as mothers...)
Lots of people on mumsnet aren't mothers though plastig. Lots are childfree women, some have grown up children, some are men. Many will not be childfree by choice, by the way, so implying that mothers are somehow 'other' in any way will rightly be picked up upon, because it's very hurtful to some posters. Others, like me, feel it's just a bit diminishing to reduce women's contributions to mums/not mums.
We all have extraordinary skills and talents to bring to the table in all walks of life, after all.
Genuine question though - do you honestly think the comments on this article are 'vitriolic'?
^^ gah, clumsy wording. Of course women with grown up children are still mothers, but they usually aren't encumbered by things like childcare in the way parents of young children are.
77 % of MPs are men. Please debate and take action to get better gender balance in Parliament.
I met Frances Scott, founder of the 50:50 at Feminism in London conference, last October. As a self-proclaimed feminist myself, she has inspired me more than anyone else, not just to sign the 50:50 petition but to actually become involved with the campaign.
It was presumed, bearing in mind Justine Roberts has signed the 50:50 petition, that Mumsnet would be an ideal forum to spread awareness about the lack of gender equality in parliament. So we grabbed the opportunity to write a guest post on here with both hands.
I thought it best, in the first instance, to talk about the experiences that have motivated me to become involved in this campaign and that, bearing in mind this is arguably the No.1 parenting forum (of course I am aware people without children are present here too), my feelings might strike a chord with many readers. I thought I had been quite clear in moving the blog on to talk about women (not solely mothers) in general. The goal of the article is promote awareness of the disproportional representation of women in our government. Unfortunately there are only so many points you can make within a specified limit. I have tried to address each point specifically, hopefully in a satisfactory way.
The fact that this has stirred some strong and passionate responses can only be a good thing. However, we need to channel this passion into the right areas and to challenge the right people. We are genuinely trying to make change for all women. You can all become a part of this. We urge you to please click on the link and sign the petition.
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