Kate Osamor Labour & Co-operative MP for Edmonton 6th March 2020 Blog Share Tweet Time and time again, we are told that Parliament has never been more equal, that we should choose the best candidate regardless of gender, that the previous generation of feminists broke down the barriers facing women and that individual pioneers through history are evidence that the glass ceiling was long smashed. It was the international labour movement who first launched International Women’s Day – and since then we have come a long way. From Barbara Castle leading the fight for equal pay in the 1960s to Diane Abbott elected as the first black woman to be elected to Parliament in 1987, to Betty Boothroyd who became the first (and only!) female Speaker of the House, Labour has led the way. And it was a Labour Government that created the first ever full-time Minister for Women in 1997. I’m proud of the role that the Co-operative Party has played in this too. Margaret Bondfield learnt her activism in the union movement and the Co-operative Women’s Guild. She campaigned for maternity rights before becoming the first female Labour MP (and first female government minister) in 1924. Labour & Co-operative MP Harriet Slater was the first female Government Whip and it was Labour & Co-operative MP Meg Munn who, as Minister for Women and Equality, was responsible for the Equality Act in 2006. After the 2017 election, if we took the men out of Parliament, our disastrous situation with Brexit would be a very different story. When counting just the women in Parliament, we would have had a Labour majority. We could have prevented a hard Brexit and developed transformative policy which would lift communities out of poverty. Despite losing many seats in the 2019 election, Labour still returned more women than any other Party. I am proud that as things stand today, 51% of all Labour MPs are women. And I’m particularly proud, as a Labour & Co-operative MP, that over half of our Co-operative Party candidates were women. But we cannot afford to be complacent. We must not rest on our laurels. It is not enough for the Labour Party to have a strong heritage in women’s rights – we must always be striving for better and we must ensure that our own house continues to be in order. Women make up half of Labour’s membership, but they are absent from many of the leadership positions across our party. In local Labour branches and many CLP executives, gender inequality persists, and in the run up to 2019 more women faced deselection threats from their local parties than our male counterparts. Many local councils still don’t have support in place for councillors with caring responsibilities and lack policies for maternity leave. Maternity leave also remains a battle in Parliament, where my fellow Labour & Co-operative MP Stella Creasy had to campaign for a locum MP as maternity cover in her constituency, and it was only last year that proxy voting for MPs on parental leave was finally permitted. And for BME women, the fight is even harder. I first joined the shadow front bench as shadow minister for women and equalities, and later became the shadow International Development Secretary. In these roles, one thing was clear: at home and overseas, women remain under-represented and unheard. Around the world, women are systemically denied rights and a voice – so I committed Labour to launching the UK’s first explicitly feminist international development policy when next in power. And my fight for gender equality does not end there. We should hardwire the fight for gender equality into all of our policy and processes, and I’m excited that the Co-operative Party will be embarking on some new work through 2020 on promoting equality and improving representation. Feminism should be the golden thread through every Labour and Co-operative manifesto, and all women shortlists should be the norm until we achieve true gender parity. We should be encouraging women to put themselves forward, and ensuring we give no cover to the misogyny that those women in the public eye too often face online. I’m proud to represent two parties with strong records on women’s rights and representation – and this International Women’s Day I’m reaffirming my commitment to continue this work.