Cllr Kelly Grehan
Tuesday was The International Day of Democracy. The UN describes this as ‘providing an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world’. They also say ‘Democracy is as much a process as a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, national governing bodies, civil society and individuals, can the ideal of democracy be made into a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.’
Globally it is undeniable that the participation of women continues to be lacking. Only 24.3 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of February 2019 and there are 27 States in which women account for less than 10 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including three chambers with no women at all.
Here in the UK men still hold more than 66% of the seats in parliament despite a record number of women having been elected in December, and whilst there is cause for celebration that the Labour Parliamentary party has now achieved gender parity in Parliament the fact that we still have not had a female leader must surely be recognised as a failure.
So it was interesting that, this week, for the first time in his Premiership Boris Johnson was forced to face a woman at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and in Angela Rayner he faced a woman whose experiences and journey to Parliament could not be more different to his own. Much is made of the fact that Angela was once a teenage mum, without qualifications, from a working class background and that this makes her somewhat of an anomaly as an MP, but surely it would be better for our democracy if there was nothing remarkable about someone like Angela being an MP, and that all kinds of experiences were represented in the House of Commons. Maybe, we would have seen a better response to the Covid crisis if those in charge had more experience of ordinary life to full back on in decision making.
It is worth noting that Angela is one of only six women who have represented the Labour Party at PMQs, the others being Harriet Harman, Margaret Beckett, Angela Eagle, Emily Thornberry and Rebecca Long-Bailey
Whilst the excellent job Angela did at the dispatch box today is no doubt being discussed across the country, I want to point out that she also bought something that has been missing from the political spotlight for some time – she bought a focus on issues which primarily impact women and with it the wisdom of her lived experiences
An ex care worker, Angela asked a floundering Boris Johnson if he knew what a care worker earnt. When Mr Johnson could not answer her question she was able to draw attention to ”the shameful fact the average wage in social care is barely more than £8 an hour.” and pressed the Prime Minister on when he would present his promised plan for reforming social care, saying he needed to “get some skates on it” in preparing the care sector for the winter.
She then raised the fact that guidance issued this week means that birth partners will not be allowed to join pregnant women until “the moment of established labour” and highlighted the distress this will cause mothers and, tragically, those it will leave to face miscarrage alone. Those watching will be in no doubt that this question was motivated by Angela’s empathy for those experiencing these circumstances and not political point scoring.
These issues are important and, whilst of course, they can be raised by men, the evidence is that often they are not and with the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and DUP all led at Westminster by men there is now a real risk of such issues being sidelined. Indeed all of us are, to some extent influenced by our own experiences and that is why we need a diverse range of people among those who govern.
So, whilst we celebrate Angela Rayner’s performance today we need to focus efforts on ensuring that diverse women’s voices are heard and represented in Parliament – for the sake of democracy.