International Women’s Day is a great moment for women everywhere to take stock. And with more women MPs than ever before (208 out of 650) it’s a big day for Parliament too, writes Harriet Harman, Camberwell and Peckham MP…
So how are we doing? For a start, there’s now a strong Women’s Caucus in Parliament pushing for progress for women. We’ve got that because there are now women MPs in all parties and we are finding ways to work together across party lines. Here’s some of the progress we’ve made over the last year:
Parliament has backed the #MeToo movement demanding that women at work should be free from sexual assault and harassment – and that goes for women working in Parliament too. We’ve stepped up our quest for women to be paid fairly, requiring all organisations to publish the gender pay gap. It was no surprise that it showed that 8 out of 10 organisations pay their men more than their women. We don’t believe that women at work are worth less than men so we need some tough penalties for those who continue with pay discrimination. Everyone now agrees that tackling domestic violence is a priority yet we still see the relentless toll of men killing their wives and girlfriends and too often the courts hand out woefully inadequate sentences. There are always warning signs and we’re still too slow to act on them.
It’s great that we’ve got more women MPs than ever before. But we’re also facing a massive misogynist backlash. Death threats against women MPs are now almost routine. No woman MP should have to look over her shoulder or change what she says or how she votes in parliament because of threats of violence. It’s time we recognised that threatening and harassing women MPs is not legitimate protest or just part of the “rough and tumble” of politics. It’s a threat to our democracy and those who do it – whether online or in person – should be prosecuted.
It’s encouraging to see women all around the world getting elected to their parliaments. And there’s a growing network of women MPs from all around the world working together. Though we come from very different countries, many of the problems are the same. We want not just to be in our parliaments but to be sharing power on equal terms with men MPs. We’re not there yet – but, working together and with determination, we’re making progress.
So we’ll celebrate International Women’s Day, and pause to give ourselves credit for the battles we’ve fought and won. But we’ll only stop for a moment because we need to get on with tackling the glaring inequality which still holds women back. As they say “a woman’s work is never done”!