Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Women need co-operation, not inspirational leaders - The Times


International Women’s Day is the moment every year when we pat ourselves on the back for the progress we’re making on women’s equality and bemoan just how much further we still have to go.  But having made monumental change from the position of women in my mother’s generation, we have learnt a few lessons.  *change is possible - even when everyone is telling you it isn’t. *it needs resilience and persistence - even the most obvious change can take decades. *you will face a backlash which is often personal and threatening.  The more progress you make and the more women’s voice are heard the greater the misogynist backlash.  And it’s always nasty. *It’s not possible to make change as a woman acting alone.  It’s the solidarity of women working together which does it - not a few inspirational leaders. *don't stand around waiting to be popular.  Women who fight for equality are labelled awkward, aggressive or abnormal. But *women sticking their neck out for change will always have the support of millions of women who, like us, rail against unfairness and the discrimination they all face in their own lives.

And that’s how we’ve gone from a situation where women were defined by their role in a household dominated by a man - daughter, housewife, mother, - to a situation where nearly everyone agrees that women are not inferior to men.  But though we’ve won the arguments the reality still needs more work.  Few would argue that women should be paid less than men at work.  But 8 out of 10 employers still pay their women less than their men.  No-one condones domestic violence - like they used to. But still women’s eyes are blacked, their ribs broken and their children terrorised by men who are their husbands or boyfriends.  No-one would, any more, argue that men should make the decisions and women should abide by them.  But where decisions are to be made whether it’s in politics or business or any other field, it’s the men making the decisions even if they have to rely on women to implement them!

But though it’s depressing to see misogyny centre stage in America’s White House and the burning injustice of women in the developing world, we shouldn’t understate what we’ve achieved.  The Women’s Movement’s quest for women’s equality has been the most enduring successful political movement of my lifetime.  And the prospects for more progress are strengthened by the arrival in Parliament of more women than there have ever been.  And whilst it used to be only on the Labour side that women were arriving in numbers, there are now women in the Tories who see themselves as feminists and are pressing for progress.  With more than 200 hundred of us, if we women MPs can find a way to work together on a consistent basis, we might just turn out to be the most coherent force in a fractured parliament.

Original article appeared in the Times on International Women's Day - 8th March 2019 https://t.co/Bupu4d9CMY


The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.