This week, the House of Commons and Downing Street played host to over one hundred female MPs from over 80 countries during the ‘Women MPs of the World’ Conference, to mark the 100th anniversary of the first women winning the right to stand for election to parliament in the UK. The MPs attended a reception held by the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening before holding various sessions in the House of Commons on Thursday. Seeing the chamber full of women was truly a sight to behold.
The conference had cross-party support from the Secretary for International Development and Minister for Women & Equalities, Penny Mourdant, the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom and Mother of the House Harriet Harman. It was also backed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Wilton Park.
When addressing the guests during the reception at No10 on Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister acknowledged that “We have lived different lives, hold different political beliefs, but each of us have answered the unique calling that is public service.” She told the gathering of MPs that “a woman’s place is in elected office“.
Across the world, we are seeing more women running for – and winning – elected office than ever before. As this conference was underway, a new generation of female politicians were being elected across the United States, breaking one glass ceiling after each other. The benefits of this was made clear by the Prime Minister who explained that “a parliament where women are a rare sight is a parliament working with one hand tied behind its back; a more representative parliament leads to better decision making, better politics and ultimately better government”. In the United Kingdom we have a record number of female MPs – currently 209. Women now make up a third of the House of Commons – and we have all benefited from their presence.
“Getting elected is only half the battle. We also have to make the system work once we are a part of it – and doing so in what is often a male-dominated and male-oriented environment is not always easy..” – Theresa May
In her opening speech in the House of Commons, Mordaunt summarised the mood of the conference acclaiming that “Those who went before us started a great movement for equality. Let us be the generation that finished the job”. She used it as an opportunity to speak about sexual and physical violence against women, the twenty-five million backstreet abortions that occur every year, the horrors of FGM and the barriers of girls education.
“In 2018 we should not have to have a fight on our hands to get women’s rights mentioned in summit documents, especially when that summit is the G7.
Unless we enable every woman to reach their full potential, humanity won’t reach its.
Unless women and girls thrive, our nations won’t.” – Penny Mordaunt
The conference was dominated by speeches and discussions about pushing for equality, economic empowerment of women and ensuring that every girl gets a proper education. Sessions included one on the impact of female MPs led by Maria Miller, the Chair of the Women & Equalities Select Committee. Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary and former Minister for Women & Equalities, held a joint session on women’s economic empowerment.
A number of MPs signed up to a call to encourage social media companies to end online violence against women in politics.
One of the greatest takeaways from this conference was that these women were able to put their political differences aside in order to properly discuss the issues facing women – across the globe – in the twenty first century and commit to finding a way forward. All too often we see women revert to their political lines, and this undoubtedly stalls progress. Pragmatism and cooperation – of the sort that we say during this conference – could truly change the game for women’s equality across the world.
The Prime Minister summed it up perfectly in her speech at No10 – “let’s make sure women and girls know that whatever their views, whatever their party, whatever others may say, a woman’s place is in elected office.”