Friday November 9, 2018
Female MPs from around the world sit in the chamber of the House of Commons in London. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/PA
A century since legislation paved way to universal suffrage in UK, parliament hosts meeting of female MPs from around the world
Female MPs from around the globe have pledged to form an international sisterhood and to support each other’s fight for gender equality.
In the centenary year of legislation paving the way to universal suffrage in Britain, the UK has hosted the first-ever meeting of female MPs from every parliament in the world.
At the gathering of 120 women from 86 countries at the Houses of Parliament in London, Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary and minister for women, praised the “powerful, strong, courageous women” who had gathered, saying they had been motivated by love “of our nations, your children and humanity” – thanking one politician for bringing her baby into the House of Commons.
She said the challenges faced by female MPs included balancing work with motherhood, the daily battle to be taken seriously, sexual harassment and intimidation, adding that female parliamentarians had to show “restraint and resolve ... when constantly being patronised, the fight to be heard and to keep going when you are frightened”.
Calling on the spirit of the suffragettes, and echoing their rallying cry, Mordaunt suggested the international group could share a “giant sisterhood WhatsApp group”, adding: “The margin of success is in this room. Because courage calls to courage everywhere, because without women’s rights there are no human rights.”
She paid tribute to the suffragettes, but also to parliamentarians who had lost their lives while serving the public, such as Jo Cox.
Welcoming the politicians at Downing Street on Wednesday night, Theresa May said there were more female members of parliaments and legislative assemblies around the world than ever before.
Currently there are the highest number of women in history sitting in the House of Commons. But only 32% of British MPs are women, while across the world just 24% of people elected into international parliaments are women.
“More women in elected office means a greater voice speaking out on issues that affect women,” May said. “It means a greater focus on preventing gender-based violence, on girls’ education, on childcare and on women’s health [...] But the benefits are also felt more widely. After all, if half the population is systematically excluded from politics then you’re also excluding half the talent.”
Mother of the House, Harriet Harman, who has been an MP for 36 years, said that all the MPs present shared the goal of being equal with men in parliament and being able to deliver equality for women.
“At this historic conference [...] we’ll determine to fight yet harder to get equality for women in our countries,” she said. “We’ll make links so we can work together in the future. We’ll strengthen our resolve to fight the backlash against women in public life and to get yet more women into parliaments.”