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MPs discuss National #AskHerToStand Day

#AskHerToStand

The 21st of November marks National Ask Her to Stand Day in the United Kingdom where 50:50 parliament encourages people to ask women to stand for parliament. The reason for the day is that despite women making up more than 50% of the UK population, just 35% of MPs are female.

The 21st of November is a special day for women in politics as it was on this day 105 years ago that the Qualification of Women Act was passed. This was the day that women over the age of 21 were finally given the right to stand for election in the United Kingdom.

To mark the occasion, the founder of 50:50 parliament, Frances Scott, has conducted a series of interviews with standings MPS across four parties to find out why they support the campaign and to find out more about their jobs to encourage women to stand for parliament. The four MPs she spoke to were:

  • Ben Bradshaw (Labour Party)
  • Wendy Chamberlain (Liberal Democrats)
  • Caroline Nokes (Conservative Party)
  • Anum Qaisar (Scottish National Party)
Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women’s and Equalities Select Committee sits down with the new CEO of 50:50 Parliament Lyanne Nicholl

The importance of women in parliament

Ben Bradshaw:

“I’m sure a lot of people have been watching the proceedings of the COVID inquiry and we’ve had some very, very important testimony in the last week of how a macho culture may have meant that decisions were taken that completely ignored the needs of women and children in particular.

“There was the prioritising reopening of sports events and prioritising the reopening of pubs over schools, for example. So there you have a very good example of why it is so important that our government represents the population as a whole because it’s only by doing that then it can make decisions that reflect the interests of the population as a whole.”

Ben Bradshaw MP discusses a 50:50 Parliament with Frances Scott

Anum Qaisar:

“The most important reason is that we are all members of society and if you want a parliament or government that is representative of all members of society then we need an adequate representation of women, there is no two ways about it.”

“One of the conversations I have very often in parliament is asking, why when we’re creating policy is it not done through the prism of a woman or through feminism, and actually thinking about how this policy impacts women? Once we get into a situation where we’re doing that in actual fact, all societies are going to benefit.”

Why #AskHerToStand Day is important

Ben Bradshaw:

“A lot of women have so many different responsibilities in their lives from working to family so politics is just that something that is seen as an extra burden that they can’t face.

“But, if you look at the difference that great women in politics have made in recent years, figures like Barbara Castle and Harriett Harman, who have really changed and improved the lives of women should inspire other women to see what’s possible through politics.”

Caroline Nokes:

What matters is that we inspire women to not just think that they can do it but to make them know that they can do it. You have to lead by example, you have to tell would-be parliamentarians that this is a great job to have.

“If we want to have issues that resonate with women debated in Parliament and if we want to bring about change that makes women’s lives better then you have to have more women there.

“When you go somewhere like Westminster Hall to select committees and see the number of women that are working collaboratively, on a cross-party basis, egos have gone out the window. It’s all about ‘where do we want to get to and what is the change that we want to affect?’”

The importance of allyship

Ben Bradshaw:

“Allyship is really important when striving towards equality. I was the first openly gay MP who was elected and I remember when I was elected there was a moral panic around gay people that was being pushed by some politicians who should have known better.

“Having allyship at the time from heterosexual married mothers in parliament was the most valuable allyship we could have possibly had because there’s always a danger when it’s you making the case that you’re dismissed as arguing for your own self-interest.”

Wendy Chamberlain:

“It’s hugely important because if men don’t see better representation as an issue, we’re kind of stuffed. Women make up the majority of the population in the UK so this needs to be sen as something that everybody wants to address than just women

“I always find it interesting that on my first International Women’s Day, I thanked Willie Rennie, my MSP colleague who asked me to stand in 2017 because without him I wouldn’t be here today. So, I think demonstrates how important the allyship of men is.”

The best thing about being a MP

Wendy Chamberlain:

“People often ask me, do you like your job? I genuinely see it as the best job I’ve ever had and if you don’t think that you should probably question whether you’re in the right job or not, because you have to be passionate about it.

“It’s incredibly hard work and the hours are long – I’m a Scottish MP who’s away from my family during the week and that’s difficult and challenging. But, you know, the privilege of sitting in Parliament and speaking on behalf of your constituents is very powerful.”

Wendy Chamberlain MP speaks to Frances Scott, Founder of 50:50 Parliament

Caroline Nokes:

“I always tell people this it is absolutely the best job in the world. You can make a real difference to individual constituents when they come to you with a problem when they’ve got to the end of their tether of trying to deal with it, and sometimes we can just solve it for them.

“That’s the thing that makes a huge difference when you’ve had a really tough day, when it’s been grim in the chamber or when your diary has gone badly wrong and you’re late for everything. You just look down at your phone, and you’ll get an email from a constituent that just says thank you for helping me with whatever the issue is. You made a difference.”

The next steps

Wendy Chamberlain:

“I think there’s still a lot to do and this is where it ties in for me around standards because I do think the parties themselves need to do more in relation to having a more diverse parliament. It all comes down to selecting appropriate candidates in the first place and so that due diligence needs to happen.”

Anum Qaisar:

“Political parties are in charge of the selection process and from the very start, you have to go through vetting. So it’s really important that we’re identifying women, giving them the support in order to get through vetting, and then to get through selection.

“In the SNP, we have women-only shortlists and they work really, really well as it ensures women have the opportunity to stand. I think there is a need for all parties to incorporate this.”

Anum Qaisar MP discusses equal representation with Frances Scott

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