To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in this country winning the right to stand for election to parliament, we will be holding the first ever women MPs of the world conference on Thursday 8th November. And MPs have agreed that it will be held in the historic chamber of the House of Commons.
Women have fought their way into parliaments in nearly every country in the world. But we are still only relatively recent arrivals on the political scene, still pioneers in male dominated parliaments. We are all pushing for the same things and facing the same obstacles. Women are now in parliaments but are not yet on equal terms with men. Women MPs around the world want not only to be in parliaments but also to be able to share power equally and to be strong enough to make a real difference for women in our countries. It’s not good enough to be in Parliament. It’s very much what you do which counts.
So at our conference we’ll be discussing policy ideas for helping women and girls. I’ll be telling them about our new laws to make organisations publish their equal pay gap every year. We’ll be discussing how we make sure that women MPs are as powerful as men and how we change our rules to reflect that women are in our parliaments too. I’ll be telling them about how we’re introducing a system of proxy voting for MPs who go on maternity leave. And we’ll be discussing the backlash that faces us. Challenging the idea that we must just expect to get death threats and that we should be awash with insults and abuse on social media.
I will be eager to hear what they are doing in their countries as they push forward for women. Many of them are drawing up new rules to deal with sexual harassment in parliament. In India they are using a Girls’ Parliament to ensure girls get the idea that politics is for women too. The Girls’ Parliament is elected and has its own PM and cabinet! This is a brilliant idea and I’m going to propose to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in Parliament that we set one up in the UK! One of the issues we’ll be discussing at our conference will be how we increase the number of women MPs. It’s always hard to make change if you are just a small minority.
The women MPs of the world will be bringing all their ideas and experience to London to share with us and each other. Imagine how it will look when the green benches of our House of Commons is crammed with women from over 100 countries from Sierra Leone, to Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Japan, Peru, Australia and the USA - all looking very different from how our Commons usually looks.
The visual impact alone will be stunning and the images will race around the world.
And it will show that as we celebrate the progress towards equality made by women in the UK, we recognise that women are striving for the same progress in every country in the world - and we support them.
We want to make lasting connections. So we will use the conference to initiate an online forum of women MPs so the discussion kickstarted in Westminster can continue.
This historic conference is backed by the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP, the Foreign Office, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Wilton Park. Speakers include shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott MP and shadow equalities secretary, Dawn Butler MP. And Prime Minister Theresa May has been invited to participate.
The sisterhood is now global. Already as word about the conference spreads, the Japanese House of Representatives has been in touch to share ideas on how we can make it easier for MPs who have had a baby or adopted a child to carry out their duty to vote on behalf of constituents in parliament. We have so much to learn from women MPs in other parliaments. And they have much to learn from us and from each other. This promises to be an historic event. The public gallery will be opened up to the public and community organisations to watch the debates. So put that date in your diary..
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This article originally appeared in Southwark News, 20th September 2018