Voices: This is what it means to be a woman in politics in 2023
Being a female MP in 2023, I’m often asked to speak to students at all-girls schools.
Whenever I do, I inevitably get asked about the gender pay gap in our country, which I tell them is still 15 per cent. It’s even higher for Black African women at 24 per cent, and an alarming 31 per cent for Pakistani women.
The young girls I talk to genuinely can’t understand how this is still the case. Isn’t it high time in 2023 that we put our money where our mouth is on gender equality and pay women equally?
Being a female politician in 2023 means still getting asked by male colleagues why I am asked to speak on so many panels at a recent conference. One who recently made this comment joked that “it’s probably for the diversity angle”, which I responded to by looking him straight in the eye and said “might it be that they want to hear more from me than you?” Isn’t it high time in 2023 that we stopped tolerating sexist workplace banter?
Being a mother in 2023 means dealing with my four-year-old son’s constant questioning about whether women can be firefighters, having watched Fireman Sam and wondered why it was mostly men saving people’s lives. Isn’t it high time in 2023 that we stopped promoting these outdated stereotypes?
Being an aunt in 2023 means watching my young niece spend hours on her phone watching content that can only have a negative impact on body image. It makes me wonder about the influence of social media on young women and why the government keeps trying to kick the online safety bill into the long grass and water it down. Isn’t it high time in 2023 that we got round to properly regulating the internet to keep girls safe?
Being a feminist in 2023 means that I feel increasingly frustrated by the boys and girls clothing sections in shops, where the t-shirts aimed at my daughter have slogans such as “Be kind” and “Be generous” while those for my son say things like “Be daring” or “Be bold”. Isn’t it high time in 2023 that we as a society stop sending subliminal messages to children that attempt to pigeonhole them with outdated stereotypes?
If I’m being honest, being a woman in politics in 2023 isn’t quite what I thought it would be when I started out two decades ago, at a time when we were making rapid progress on gender equality. However, being part of a Parliamentary Labour Party that has over 50 per cent women MPs gives me hope that things can only get better by 2024.