Britain Female Parliamentarians Punching above their weight

Rwanda has an impressive number of female politicians and is rightly proud of the contribution they make to their country. In Britain we have far fewer high-profile female Members of Parliament (MPs) than we should. The problem is so acute that the ruling Labour party uses “all-women shortlists” in some constituencies, meaning only women are put forward to stand as MPs.

Rwanda has an impressive number of female politicians and is rightly proud of the contribution they make to their country.

In Britain we have far fewer high-profile female Members of Parliament (MPs) than we should. The problem is so acute that the ruling Labour party uses “all-women shortlists” in some constituencies, meaning only women are put forward to stand as MPs.

Last month, David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative party, announced that he also planned to introduce all women shortlists, but he is facing opposition from the traditional elements in his party who feel “politically correct” candidates are being forced on them.

But the female MPs that Britain does have certainly seem to punch above their weight. Harriet Harman is the most high-profile female politician in the UK. She is deputy leader of the Labour Party and Minister for Women and Equalities, is such a staunch feminist that some newspapers have dubbed her “Harriet Harperson” in a play on her surname.

She was heavily pregnant when she first took her seat in Parliament in 1982 and has fought for mothers to be allowed to breastfeed in public.

In her political lifetime she has had enough run-ins with the British press – some of whom claim she discriminates against men – to put her on a par with the more controversial of her male colleagues.

Some say that the controversy she attracts is self-inflicted and is the result of a kind of foolish naivety, while others see it as the revenge of a male-dominated media elite for her feminist and pro-equality politics.

Ms Harman has been caught speeding in her car three times over the last seven years – once at nearly 30 miles-per-hour over the speed limit – and was fined each time.

In January this year she pleaded guilty to hitting another vehicle while trying to park her car, allegedly while speaking on her mobile phone, which is illegal in the UK.

In April 2008 she was heavily criticised by the national press after being photographed wearing a reinforced stab-proof vest while on a day-time walk-about of her constituency in Peckham, South London, with the local police. She claimed she was given it to wear by the police, but there was indignation that she felt she needed that level of protection to walk around her own constituency in broad daylight, while the people of Peckham were not so privileged.

Ms Harman has also faced the wrath of a militant fathers’ rights activist group called Fathers 4 Justice with amusing consequences.

In 2008 two members of the group climbed on to the roof of her London home and unfurled a banner, which read: “A father is for life not just conception.” They were arrested when they eventually agreed to climb down.

But just a few months’ later two different Fathers 4 Justice campaigners climbed onto the roof again and this time the banner said: “Stop war on dads.”

Ms Harman’s Cabinet colleague, Tessa Jowell, is the Minister for Sport in the UK and is a well-respected female politician. She is part of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s inner circle and is responsible for bringing the 2012 Olympic games to London.

Kate Hoey is another interesting politician, having been a Labour MP since 1989, but in a completely different vein to Ms Harman and Ms Jowell. She is less senior and far more rebellious, which has got her in trouble with party colleagues.

She came out of the fiercely chauvinistic Labour party movement of Northern Ireland and frequently votes against her party’s line in Parliamentary votes.

She voted against key government policies including the war in Iraq and became a spokeswoman against her party’s plans to ban fox hunting. Although not currently a minister, she is diligent and hardworking and has never been afraid to voice her opinions, winning her much admiration.

So while the UK has a long way to go before it reaches the kind of parliamentary gender equality seen here in Rwanda, there are lots of examples of strong, independent women to look to in the meantime.

Last week it was announced that Ms Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey, is to follow in her footsteps and stand for Parliament, 28 years after his wife.

Ends

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