The Importance of Women in Politics

Monday 2 July 2018

shanae and Jo SwinsonSchool plays, stomach bugs and impromptu after school events are all situations which haunt me as mother to a 4 year old. I had my son Jayden at 20 and since then my life has been a balancing act. The type of employer I have is very important to me as Jayden comes first and I need an employer who understands that I may need to dash for the school pick-up or the dreaded calls from the school when my son is ill.

Women can be apprehensive about what career path they choose because of the reservations they have about being able to commit to family life. So where would a career in politics fit into all of this?

There are various campaigns like 50:50 parliament and the Parliament Project which are pushing for a more equal representation in parliament. Having equal representation of all groups in parliament is important. But as more women push through the doors, is parliament ready to change?

There are women in parliament who are doing great work such as Dawn Butler, Jess Phillips and Jo Swinson, plus many more. I recently had the opportunity to meet Jo Swinson and discuss her journey into Politics. I met Jo at her office in Westminster, she was six months pregnant and bustling around, it was heart-warming to see an office in Portcullis house decorated with family photos. Jo’s reason for entering politics was simple, she had always been someone who spoke up for things she thought were unjust., she enjoyed debating at school and after signing her first petition she joined the Liberal Democrats at 17.

Jo took “lots of little steps” that helped to advance her political career, she also recommends joining a political party as early on as possible as doing so helps with networking and meeting more senior members. One of her greatest achievements is that at the age of 25 she became the youngest elected MP in Scotland. Before she ran for her home seat, Jo had worked as a marketing manager for her local radio. The great thing about politics is that you can use your existing experiences and skills to really create change.

According to Jo there is a “sense of comradery amongst the women MPs in parliament”, this was refreshing to hear as often in situations where women are in the minority the competition is fierce and women are pitched against each other. It was great to hear that in an environment which is naturally competitive women work with each other and not against each other and have even formed bonds. Female MPs are often given a hard time on spaces like twitter and Jo described other women in politics as a sort of support group for each other.

For women like me who have children and are the primary carer for their child it was encouraging to hear that when her first child was one she was the bag carrier for Vince Cable (a bag carrier is required to go to Parliament every week with the respective MP). Bearing in mind that her home seat is in Scotland and her husband was also an MP, they made use of the nursery in Parliament and Jo’s son made political history as he was the first baby to be carried through the voting lobby of the Commons by his father.

The job does have its challenges however and the reason why her son was in the voting lobby was because Jo and her husband were called to vote. MPs are regularly called into parliament, often without much notice so they had no choice but to bring him with them. Also, to keep your place in the parliament nursery, you need to keep your seat, so when Jo lost her seat in 2015 her son had to leave the nursery with little notice.

Speaking to Jo it’s clear the job works for her lifestyle and she encourages and recommends young women to consider political careers. The job definitely ticks a box for flexibility - and parliament recess normally coincides with the school holidays (winning!) 

As we advocate for more diverse representation in parliament I would encourage young women to consider how they could use their stories and skills for change in the political world. Parliament is meant to represent the population but unless all the diverse voices of the nation are present in the conversation, we will never have leadership which fully represents our population.