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Gender Inequality in Elected Office – An Exclusive with Flick Drummond MP and Apsana Begum MP

gender inequality in elected office

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday the 8th of March, Frances Scott sat down with two female MPs, Flick Drummond and Apsana Begum. Frances is the founder of the 50:50 Parliament campaign which is working across all parties to try and close the gap between the number of male MPs and female MPs in UK parliament.

As two women who have had to overcome barriers to become members of parliament, Drummond and Begum are advocates for 50:50 parliament and gender equality in elected office. Since the campaign was launched ten years ago, 78 more women are now in the Commons although there is still a long way to go until men and women share equal seats.

As the theme of this year’s IWD is #EmbraceEquality, Frances’ conversation with Flick and Apsana centred on their experiences as female political figures and how they envisage the numbers gap closing between men and women in Westminster.

Why they pursued careers in politics

Apsana is relatively young for an MP at the age of 32 after being elected in Poplar and Limehouse in 2019. She won the seat after becoming the Labour representative on the back of being on an all-woman shortlist – something the party have controversially scrapped for the next general election.

Prior to that, she worked in equality and diversity roles and says she was inspired to pursue a career in politics after participating in a number of campaigns relating to breaking systemic barriers.

“I specialised in looking into organisations and how they could further representation within their workforces. I was so inspired by the women I worked with and so I took the step forward to lead them and empower them. I was proudly elected as the first British Bangladeshi Secretary of the Tower Hamlet Labour Party and went from there.”

Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse

Flick Drummond is a more experienced MP at the age of 60 and has enjoyed a rollercoaster career in politics after winning and losing a number of different seats throughout her career. Her interest in politics started after discovering that all of the schools in her local area weren’t at a high enough standard.

She says that the key to her success has been “perseverance, persistence, and real ambition”. However, she does admit that she has been lucky in the sense that she has had great support from her husband and mother when it came to juggling family life and her career – something women have traditionally had to worry about more than men.

The challenges for older and younger women facing gender inequality in parliament

As there are 28 years between the two women, it’s fair to say that they both face different types of challenges. While Flick’s route to the Commons would have been more difficult 20 years ago, Apsana has to contend with the stereotypes of being a young woman in a male-dominated arena.

Flick believes that there is great value in being an older woman in parliament.

“There’s value to it because my children are all grown up now I can fully concentrate on it. As a woman, it’s incredibly difficult to juggle family, politics and work and you need a good network and a supportive partner. Now that I’m through the other side I can give politics my full attention.

Flick Drummond, MP for Meon Valley

Apsana believes that it’s her duty to ensure that those who are younger than her have an easier time than she did when she first entered politics:

“We’re not rose-tinted about what the reality is for us as women in parliament. What we can do is look at our own experiences and look at how we can make things better for the next generation. The 2019 intake of MPs that I was a part of was the most diverse ever and I believe that will lead to a domino effect – more representation leads to more representation.

“I don’t have children myself but the cost of running a campaign for a seat in parliament can become too much for many women around my age. These campaigns can last years so they have to still work full-time and there are also the potential child-care costs.”

Gender inequality in elected office with Flick Drummond MP and Apsana Begum MP
Image – (From left to right) Apsana Begum MP, Frances Scott, Flick Drummond MP

Inspiring women

Both Flick and Apsana are keen to ensure that the work they do while they are Members of Parliament leaves behind a lasting legacy for other women in the country, whether that be people interested in politics or not.

Alongside Jess Phillips, Flick currently runs an All Party Parliamentary Group “called women and work”. Explaining what this group does, Flick says:

“We produced a report last week looking at the specific barriers that women face at work. One of the main things we looked at was the issue of women struggling to get back into work after being off for six months or more, whether that be for child care or to look after an elderly relative.

We’re looking at why women even need to justify the time they’ve had out of work and saying that unpaid work relating to care should be just as valuable on a CV as anything else. We’re hoping to change society and how they think about it.”

Final thought – Looking to the next election

Conservative Party Chairman, Oliver Dowden, has said that he wants 50% of the party’s MPs to be women after the next general election. As things stand, only 24% of Conservative MPs are women and with an election due to take place next year, this feels unrealistic.

Talking about how her party could go about achieving this goal, Flick says that all-women shortlists should be considered, in addition to mentoring schemes for women in the party. She said:

“It’s up to local members to decide who they want to represent them but yeah the numbers are disappointing. We may have to employ all-women shortlists if we want to get to 50% for the next election but we also need to support and mentor women with things like presentation skills and public peaking. We need to encourage them to come forward and look after them when they’re here.”

Apsana, on the other hand, is a member of the labour party which currently has 51% of women as MPs. However, with the party ditching all-women shortlists that figure may begin to decrease in the coming years.

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