EMMELINE Pankhurst broke into the House of Commons to petition prime minister Herbert Asquith for women to get the vote and during her trial for that crime she declared: “We are here, not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers.”
When I and my female colleagues entered parliament last May we were democratically elected, we didn’t have to break in and although we have come along way since the days of Pankhurst, there is still a long way to go until we can truly say we have equality.
The number of male MPs in the House of Commons today outnumbers the number of female MPs ever elected. We are slowly making progress with diversity and equality in our democratic institutions. I and my colleagues are also doing our best to modernise and bring the UK parliament into modern times because fundamentally equality and diversity should start at the heart of our democracies.
It is well known that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been a champion of equality and her gender-balanced Cabinet, as well as of the work of the Scottish Government and SNP Cabinet colleagues to encourage balanced boards, women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, and people of all races, gender, ability and sexuality to get involved in society and politics, not to mention the SNP’s record investment in childcare.
It seems ever obvious that it’s not the why we should do it, more the how we do it. Academic research recently showed that boards with more women do 36 per cent better. Helena Morrissey, the estimable chief executive of Newton Investment and leading activist for gender equality, said on the publication of the stats: “It seems pretty obvious to me that companies that have women at the top are also more likely to have inclusive cultures.”
The same has to be said for politics.
In the Lothians, we do well. Two of the five female Cabinet secretaries – Fiona Hyslop and Angela Constance – both represent West Lothian constituencies, the county in which my own constituency lies. The Livingston constituency has fielded female candidates in the last six elections.
In Scotland, three major parties are led by women and we have a lot to be proud of in Scotland. The One in Five campaign, set up by Jamie Szymkowiak, seeks to encourage, empower and increase participation amongst disabled people in Scotland and is a great example of work on diversity. So much so that the Scottish Government just pledged a £200,000 participation fund to increase the number of representatives with a disability in the 2017 council elections and just last month the SNP held its first disabled members conference.
On Sunday, I was proud to come out and be part of the Independent on Sunday’s photo of gay MPs and peers to celebrate LGBT History Month. The UK parliament now has the highest proportion of LGB politicians in the world. Hopefully one day folk won’t need to “come out”, but while we still have discrimination and bullying it’s so important that those of us who have a voice use it. I’m proud to be one of their number – because difference and diversity matters.
As MSPs and MPs we must continue to push the boundaries of equality and modernise where we see archaic practices. My SNP colleagues and I continue to challenge the ancient practices at Westminster, whether it is attempts to reform the voting system, or call out discriminatory policies such as the Rape Clause, we will keep going because it matters for us all and most of all for future generations.
• Hannah Bardell is the SNP MP for Livingston