A century on, gender inequality persists

Jo has called for the House of Commons to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Suffragettes’ protests and said all parties must do more to encourage women into politics.

Monday 27th April 2009 marks the centenary of the day four Suffragettes chained themselves to statues in the Palace of Westminster to protest in favour of women’s right to vote. One of the statues was damaged as police removed Ms Margery Humes, and is now part of the official tour of Parliament.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Jo asked how such anniversaries can be used to highlight the history of women’s representation and encourage more women to get involved in politics. She also tabled a Parliamentary motion, with cross-party support, calling on all parties to encourage more women to stand for election.

Commenting, Jo said:

“Anniversaries of historic events always provide a good opportunity for reflecting on how far we’ve come, and the hundred years since the Suffragettes’ protests in Parliament have seen tremendous progress.

“However, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. As we also approach the thirtieth anniversary of the first woman Prime Minister, women still make up only one in five MPs.

“We should celebrate the seismic achievements of those brave women and the benefits they have brought us, but at the same time we must continue to encourage more women to get involved in politics, whether as voters or as candidates for election.

“Regardless of which party they stand for, by giving women an equal voice in the institutions of power we can go much further towards bringing about equality in the rest of society.”

The text of Jo Swinson’s Parliamentary Questions to the Deputy Leader of the House appears below:

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): If she will make arrangements for the House to mark anniversaries of significant historical events which led to increases in the representation of women in Parliament.

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): We are proud of every step that has been taken to increase the representation of women in Parliament, which is why we celebrated last year the 90th anniversary of a woman’s right to stand. We shall shortly introduce the equality Bill, and the Speaker’s Conference is already considering the issue of representation of women in the House. We very much hope that these events will become similarly important landmarks that Members will want to celebrate in 50 years’ time.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that reply. One hundred years ago on Monday, suffragettes chained themselves to statues in St. Stephen’s hall, and to remove those women, the statues had to be broken. In fact, one can still see a piece of that history today, as the repairs form part of the parliamentary tour. How might we improve and better use such anniversaries to highlight the history of women’s representation and, most importantly, to encourage more women to become involved in politics?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Lady ends with the most important point, which is how we ensure that more women want to come to Parliament and have the opportunity to represent a constituency in the House. We could celebrate many more events. For instance, next week is the 80th anniversary of the first woman Cabinet member taking her post; Margaret Bonfield was, appropriately enough, the Minister for Labour; of course, she was a Labour Minister. We are also delighted that it is our side of the House that has produced the first elected black woman MP. [Interruption.] If the hon. Ladies want a commemoration of the first woman Prime Minister, I suspect that it will not be happening in the Rhondda.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): There is a statue of her in the Lobby.

Chris Bryant: As the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Advisory Committee on Works of Art, points out, there is a very fine-if rather frightening-statue in the Lobby. I can assure him that if it were in the Rhondda, it would not get the same reception as it gets from Opposition Members.

The text of Jo’s Early Day Motion appears below:

That this House commemorates the 100th anniversary on 27th April 2009 of the day that Margery Humes, Theresa Garnet, Sylvia Russell and Bertha Quinn, Suffragettes from the Women’s Social and Political Union, chained themselves to statues in St. Stephen’s Hall to protest for women’s right to vote; pays tribute to those and all other heroic women who fought for the rights of women during a time when society, and Parliament, thought them undeserving of equal rights; admires their courage and dedication; encourages women to make full use of the hard earned right to vote and to stand for election; calls on all parties to encourage women’s political participation; looks forward to a day when gender balance in Parliament becomes a reality.

The motion has been co-sponsored by members of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives.

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