Women and Parliament event – International Women’s Day 2016
Articles Blog

Women and Parliament event – International Women’s Day 2016

November 23, 2019

Women in Parliament Event with Baroness D’Souza,
Margaret Hodge MP and Baroness Young of Hornsey.>>LIZ PRICE: I’d like to welcome – or
we’ll shortly be joined by – the Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza. But also to welcome our guests here today
who’ve kindly agreed to join us: Margaret Hodge MP – I’m very glad to have
you here. Have you previously taken part in any Women
in Parliament events?>>MARGARET HODGE: Probably many down the
years!>>LIZ PRICE: And Baroness Young as well,
so we have representation from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and it will
be interesting to cover both those sides. I’d now like to welcome Baroness D’Souza – Lord
Speaker of the House of Lords – to begin today’s proceedings.>>BARONESS D’SOUZA: Thank you very much
indeed. Is it OK if I sit down? Normally I stand up but that means I’m quite
distant from my notes. Good afternoon everyone and I’m delighted
to be here and to see you at this special event to commemorate women. In particular what I want to talk about is
women in politics but quite briefly, because I think what’s going to be much more interesting
is if we actually have a dialogue between us. Women’s participation in the political process
is something which we all strive for and if you look at this top table you will see distinguished
women who are involved in politics but that is not true for the world over unfortunately
as yet. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
has as its preamble a very moving phrase and that is: “We, the Peoples of the United Nations..”
– not, ‘We, the Governments of the United Nations’
– and it goes on to say: “..determined to save succeeding generations
from the scourge of war and to reaffirm faith in fundamental rights and in the dignity and
worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and nations large and small,
have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.” That is the standard which was drafted after
WWII. The UN declaration then goes on to list what
those freedoms are. The Declaration of Human Rights and the many
other conventions that followed in the next 60 years or so list the basic freedoms to
which we have a right: the right to life; liberty and security of
the person; freedom of expression; peaceful assembly and to political participation. Above all, the international instruments reiterate
the universal truth that human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. So political participation has been firmly
established as a basic human right: the right to be involved in decisions which
affect our lives and our livelihoods. And through the Convention on the Elimination
of all forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] – which most of you will be familiar
with – we have the international legal framework to enable women’s political engagement to
flourish. So the question becomes then, first of all:
Why does engagement matter? Very simply put, it’s a complete necessity
for any democracy to thrive; creating the conditions that encourage political
participation is a crucial driver for achieving economic growth and establishing a stable
and successful society. This we know to be true the world over. And this is not because women have what you
might call a unique view by virtue of our gender, but because without us the political
conversation is simply incomplete. Our democratic systems are at their most legitimate
and most credible when there is engagement from all corners of society. Democracy is undermined when women are excluded. All this, I know you know. But it is worth
repeating every time. The instruments of politics – parliaments,
governments, local councils – simply can’t function as effectively as they might in the
absence of one half of the population. And the benefits of female participation in
public life is not limited only politics. Studies have shown that those businesses with
a higher proportion of women on their boards perform better and there are increasing studies
that show that. In a 2014 study by Credit Suisse of 3000 companies
over two years found that those with at least one women on the board outperformed those
with no women by an average of 5%. That said, there’s a very recent report by
the International Labour Organisation which looked at data from 178 countries and found
that the rate of women’s participation in the workforce was 25.5% lower than men’s participation
in 2015. A gap which is only 0.6% smaller than 20 years
earlier. So how far have we progressed? Also the kind of employment that women are
engaged in is not often of a quality that one would hope for. So women’s participation on an equal basis
with men remains an aspiration rather than a fact for most of the world. In 1990, the UN’s Economic and Social Council
recommended a target of 30% of women in leadership positions – not just in politics – by 1995
as a first step to complete parity by the year 2000. But 25 years later, just 45 parliaments out
of 190 worldwide currently meet that initial target. And I have to say that our Parliament is not
one of them. Following this last year’s General Election,
the House of Commons only just falls short: it’s got nearly 29 per cent – is that right
Margaret?>>MARGARET HODGE: 29.4 per cent>>BARONESS D’SOUZA: 29.4 per cent- whereas
we’ve only got 23.4 per cent in the House of Lords which is interesting because we’re
an appointed House. So the question then becomes: what measures
might the international community pursue to improve things? To answer that question it’s important to
remember that women’s political engagement is not an issue to be considered in isolation. It develops of course from the broader context
of women’s liberation and access to educational and to financial resources. In the less developed world, 70% of the world’s
poorest people are women. Too many women today still live in states
of poverty, fear, exploitation and utter weariness. Though participation is their right it is
perhaps unrealistic to expect such women to aspire to political leadership, even at the
local level, when their primary concern remains their subsistence and survival. So the social conditions for political equality
have first to be created. In an ideal world, girls go to school and
they learn employment skills and ideally they take up dignified and rewarding work and ultimately
become politically engaged at local, regional ad even national levels. And once enfranchised in this way they become
democratic representatives themselves. At this stage, women’s empowerment becomes
transformative, bringing about permanent shifts in the distribution of power. In my experience, these social conditions
are in fact part of an ongoing development process. So I think what we have to do if we are serious
about trying to allow women to participate properly in politics is to consider how best
to support development around the world as a means of promoting women’s political engagement. Research in this area indicates that this
is dependent on at least two principles – and this is something I’m very keen on reiterating
because I’ve actually experienced it myself in the field, in Sub-Saharan Africa and in
South Asia. First of all, political development focuses
on what people actually need, not what donor organisations or governments or politicians
would wish to give them. Secondly, initiatives that strengthen what
already exists in the community – even if it’s in embryonic form – these initiatives
are much more likely to be sustained. And of course the underlying sentence which
I haven’t said is that we can’t impose anything on communities; it has to come and grow organically
within communities. So the rationale here is that innovation is
conceived and grown organically with communities; it allows local leaders to emerge, become
locally acceptable and mechanisms for monitoring and accountability to develop and people to
have a voice and sense of ownership of the innovation that occurs within their communities. This in turn means that any given project
will be more likely to be nurtured within the community and defended, if necessary,
and existing structures within the community will be more likely to adapt if not pressured
to do so from the outside. I was going to give you an example although
I’m very mindful of the limits on my time. But very briefly some years ago after the
Taliban had been routed in Afghanistan, I was there as a governor for the Westminster
Foundation for Democracy to see what we could do. To cut a very long story short I came across
an experiment in an extremely remote community on the extreme west of Kabul which had set
up a school to educate girls and boys – everything from 7 to 45 – because during the Taliban
years everyone had been deprived of an education but particularly women. This school was in a bombed-out mud structure
because the whole place in that area of western Kabul was the front line of the civil war
and the war before that – the Russian occupation – and the Taliban occupation before that,
a very brutal time for some 30 years. One is inspired by certain things and I was
particularly inspired by the charismatic leader of this and began to support him. He had 30 students in three shifts in this
tiny little room. I’ve got photographs of it. It’s so crowded
you could hardly squeeze in. No windows, no roof, tarpaulin over the top. And ten to twelve years later it has become
a very major school which has international reputation. It has 4,000 pupils, most of which are girls
and most them graduate and go to universities either in Afghanistan itself or in neighbouring
countries. A lot of them come to the UK as Chevening
scholars or they got to the USA. And they go back to Afghanistan. So what we
have is a generation of potential and actual leaders who are now working in government
or civil service or a career in the professions. The reason why I think this has succeeded
beyond our expectations is because it was already there. It was a local development. It was something that the community had decided
that they wanted and supported. Even though it took a lot of time to persuade
parents to allow their girls to go to school because up until then it had been a very dangerous
thing to do with the Taliban around. But bit by bit I’ve been supporting it and
there many other international donors now who support it. But it is largely self-sustaining and it is
routed in the community. And this to my mind is an example of development
that works. Again, it has two essential ingredients: If you want to promote women and educate women,
choose something that’s already in the community. Choose something that people themselves have
chosen. They wanted that school and they will defend
that school. Believe you me, that school needs defending
because there is a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and they don’t like women,
they don’t like girls and they don’t like education. Lots of development programs for women fail
and they fail for all sorts of reasons but I think one of the chief reasons why they
fail is because they don’t obey the fundamental laws; That one has to be very careful about respecting
the intelligent choices that people make. People with scarce resources make all sorts
of choices because they have to. We can make all sorts of choices that don’t
mean we’re going to fall through the net but people with scarce resources don’t have
that luxury. I’m going to go back and talk about political
engagement closer to home – the experience of the House of Lords which is as you know
is quite low – 24.3 per cent. And, as I said, in an appointed house you
would expect that we would have parity by now. The major change came in 1958 with the Life
Peerages Act – which means what it says on the tin – that for the first time people
could be appointed to the House of Lords without having any kind aristocratic background. People from normal life, like you and I, could
be appointed. And one would have thought that at that time
they could have put a whole wodge of women in but they didn’t. The first female members were very much in
the minority. Eleven years on in 1969, just three per cent
of the House were female and the number never rose above five per cent until 1989. But in the subsequent 25 years we have seen
a great improvement. When I first came to the House in 2004 there
were just 17 per cent of us.. And now we are at just under 25 per cent which
is a more optimistic way of saying 24.3 per cent. It’s not enough but things are changing. The benefits of greater female representation
in the House are clear to see. Our female members have equipped the House
hold better informed debates on matters as wide-ranging as the role of women in sport,
FGM, women’s economic empowerment and domestic violence. But it’s not just the so-called ‘female
issues’ that women deal with. We’ve got women who represent the built
environment, who represent defence and obviously the professions such as law and medicine and
science. So it’s not as if they come and say: ‘we
are women and therefore we are the only ones who can talk about FGM’. Nonsense, nonsense. FGM as an issue which should be prosecuted
was introduced years ago by one particular peer in the House, Baroness Rendell – Ruth
Rendell the crime writer – who was adamant that this was a subject that should be tackled,
should be looked at, should be prosecuted, should be made a criminal offence. She went on and on and every time Ruth stood
up everyone knew it was going to be about female genital mutilation. Then gradually over the years – during my
time there – we had a debate. Ruth sadly died last year but before she died
there was a debate where the majority of speakers were actually men. Which thinking about the House of Lords which
has a fairly ancient profile of white males – is a thing to behold. And what was really great about it is there
is now legislation on the statute which makes it illegal to be in any way involved with
the brutal task of female genital mutilation. I don’t know if any of you heard the news
this morning of a couple who were stopped at the airport on their way to Nairobi, Kenya
who were suspected of being involved in taking a child in order to be mutilated. That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago but
that is something that Ruth did. As a Chamber of professional expertise, which
the House of Lords tries to be, many of our members are appointed to bring particular
skills and experiences garnered in the UK’s boardrooms and workplaces. Our membership to some extent reflects the
shortcomings in the gender balance of the private sector; the fact we don’t have parity,
50:50, in the Lords. It’s due to many things but one of the things
it’s due to is because there are not enough women perhaps who have reached the tops of
their professions as yet to be invited to be in the House of Lords. I’m not sure that’s actually true. I think
we could probably look a bit harder – but you can at least entertain that as a possibility. One of the ways in which we might deal with
it in the House of Lords – something that a lot of us argue for all the time – is we
could have a statutory appointments committee which looks at everyone who goes into the
Lords. It looks at them very hard and says: ‘Do you have the skills necessary? Do you have the ethnic, gender diversity to
contribute to the House of Lords?’ So that it comes away from political patronage
and becomes a proper well-thought through recruitment process which actually furnished
the Lords with the skills it needs in order to scrutinise and advise legislation. I want to just tender one last point which
is that there is a very encouraging example. It concerns the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus
in Pakistan. Pakistan is not a country in which you would
have thought that women’s liberation is something we could all stand up and shout about. But as it so happens – and there are lots
of complicating factors – there are a number of women MPs in both Houses in Pakistan and
the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus is a very powerful body of about 100 parliamentarians
who some time ago got together in order to try to encourage more women to enter into
the political process. Now in Pakistan I think it is also largely
a matter of access to resources. It so happens that most of the women in parliament
are those who have a pretty wealthy background. So it is not your women from the village but
it is beginning to permeate now through provincial and local and district levels. These women got together and what they did
was to act as a body and to strike down legislation which was on the statute books which was inimical
to women and to promote women-friendly legislation onto the books; to support women and to understand more about
how to create ‘political confidence’ working at provincial and local levels – they have
quite large provincial governments. And that is working incredibly well. I’ve been involved with that now for about
five or six years and I’m going out again shortly to talk to this Caucus and to try
to replicate that in other countries within South Asia: Afghanistan, India and Nepal and
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It’s beginning to happen and what these
women in the parliamentary caucus are trying to do is provide a model for other women and
to say: ‘It is possible – you can do it.’ I think that is something that is very important. I’m sure others here are going to talk about
what’s been happening here. Mostly what has been happening here in Parliament
has been happening in the House of Commons. There’s been some extraordinary work that
has been done which has led to the setting up of a parliamentary body which actually
promotes women and indeed produced a report which had recommendations about how one can
make Parliament more women-friendly. Less abusive language; a zero tolerance response
to ‘unprofessional behaviour’ in the Chamber. Making the timetable more family-friendly
etc. So how can we make sure that we continue to
move closer to equal representation of women in politics and how can you work on that? And the most obvious way is to make clear
to your elected representatives that you want them to represent the entire population and
not just half of it. To engage in the political process. And the political process is not just what
happens in Westminster. It’s what happens every day in your neighbourhood,
on your road, in your local council, in your local schools, in parent-teacher associations. All that is politics. It’s gathering people together to make representation,
then to change things. So engage in the political process and don’t
take your democratic institutions for granted. Choose politicians who can be not just law-makers
but public-opinion shapers. We can’t duck it any longer. I say we are
a tipping point because so much has happened in the last 20, 30, 40 years. There’s so much awareness, there are so
many women’s groups, people working on an individual level. Have we reached the tipping point? Have we got critical mass? I think we do but we’re not coordinating
sufficiently. If we were to somehow speak with one voice
then we probably would be a lot more powerful. It is up to all of us to make the change. If your elected representatives won’t take
this on then do it yourselves. Become parliamentarians for heavens sake – it’s
easy peasy.. [laughter] Strike down legislation inimical to women
and promote laws which allow women to be a driving force for economic growth. No one is going to do it for you – we have
to do it ourselves. So that’s my final message to you. Thank you very much. [Applause]>>LIZ PRICE: Thank you Baroness D’Souza,
the Lord Speaker for joining us. You do have to head off at 2:30 – I should have mentioned
that at the beginning. But we will continue the event now, firstly
with a few words from Margaret Hodge MP and then from Baroness Young. The Q&A should start at about 3:30.>>MARGARET HODGE: Right well I’m going
to stand up so that I can see you. I am the 166th ever women MP. Isn’t that shocking? I’ve been here for over 20 years. When I was first elected as an MP there were
more MPs whose first name was John than there were women Members of Parliament. Even when we look today, the Labour Party
is doing rather better than the Conservative Party. We’ve got about 40 per cent of our MPs whereas
the Conservative Party is just over 20 per cent. But we’re both useless and there’s absolutely
no reason whatsoever why there shouldn’t be more. The only thing I like to think is we’re
doing slightly better than other professions. The newspaper industry: only five per cent
of editors are women. That must mean about one or two when you look
at these percentages. Judges: less than one in four is a women,
with one or two trying to get up there. So right across the thing we’ve got miles
and miles to go. When I first came here I couldn’t find the
women’s loo. There were plenty of men’s loos. Very few women’s loos because there were
very few women MPs. And the only iron and ironing board in the
whole of the Palace of Westminster was in the women’s loo. It felt like that all the way through. And I think one of the things I’d say is the
challenges I faced are going to be the challenges you face and the challenges we all face as
women. And that is balancing our lives between all
the various bits of our lives. I’ve got four children. I’ve now proudly got 11 grandchildren and
they are all really important to me. You don’t have to have children – I know people
may have elderly parents they’ve got to care for. But doing that balance between caring and
realising yourself in your life is always difficult. So let me tell this story: When I was first elected, Tony Blair had just
become Leader of the Labour Party – he wasn’t then even Prime Minister. I don’t know if you ever watch Prime Minister’s
Questions on television but you can see the person sitting behind the PM or the Leader
of the Opposition and I thought the good people of Barking, the constituency I represent,
needed to see me behind Tony Blair to show that I was really behind him and working hard
on their behalf. But to get that seat behind your leader you
had to get into the Chamber about an hour before PMQs started. So I religiously went in, sat behind Tony
and thought: ‘This great – they’ll all see me in Barking
and know that I’m really representing them here!’ But then PMQs started and in those days we
didn’t even have these mobiles – we had pagers. And my pager went off. My third daughter was at home studying for
her GCSEs and it had on it: ‘Ring home. Crisis.’ So I thought: ‘Sugar! What’s happened? Has she set fire to the house? Is she going to tell me she’s pregnant?’ I didn’t know what to expect, so I rushed
out to ring her, losing my place behind Tony Blair. I got on the phone and said: ‘What’s the matter,
Anna?’ And she said: ‘Oh Mum, I just wanted to see
whether you had the silencer on or off on your pager.’ So I lost my place and didn’t get anywhere. But I’ve been in politics, both in local government
and at central government level, for over 40 years and I’ve always been a feminist. I’m proud to call myself a feminist and always
fought for feminist causes. And women can make a difference. I was on a local authority – a London borough
– for 20 years and I can remember we really had to battle. It was when I had little babies and, if you’d
got a baby, being at home at 6:30 – 7pm at night is really important; just to be able
to settle them and put them to bed. And of course all the meetings started in
the Town Hall at about 6:30 -7. And all the boys wanted to go off and have
a pint of beer so they wanted the meetings to start early and we literally had a three-year
fight to persuade people that actually they should push the start of the meetings back
to 7:30. It took us all that time for just a very simple
thing which made all the difference for women being able to participate in politics at the
local level, which is a very satisfying place to do it. The other thing – going back to the early
80s so it’s a long time ago – we introduced two things as a labour council: We introduced childcare facilities for our
staff; that was considered absolutely bonkers. We were accused of totally wasting rate-payers
money. Profligacy – that sort of thing. But actually it was really important. It helped those few women that we could to
work and make sure that their children were being well-cared for and of course today it’s
become commonplace. Very often the things that you do which are
considered radical and difficult at one point then become commonplace afterwards. So there’s things that you can change. There are other things that I get rather depressed
about – that I think I’ve changed in my political life and I haven’t. For example, when I started in the world of
work you didn’t get any entitlement to maternity leave. It was just awful: one of my friends worked
for Unilever and she was made to work almost up to the point when she was in labour and
was then rung up and told: ‘You’re either back in two weeks or your job’s
gone.’ I thought we’d won all that and it was all
different now that we have maternity rights and it was all embedded. Now my children are having children and there
are three shocking stories there. One of my daughters works for a local authority
and they tried to make her redundant when she was on maternity leave which was shocking.
That’s the public sector. My daughter-in-law worked for one of the major
law firms and they gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse the day before she had her baby. They basically got rid of her so that they
wouldn’t have her on their books. So that’s the Private Sector. And my niece works for a voluntary organisation
and she’s had to have IVF treatment ad they sacked her because she had had too much time
off to have her IVF treatment. What that says to me is although you think
you’ve made progress, you can never take your foot off the accelerator and you’ve
always got ensure that the small advances you have made are sustained. What about here in Parliament? I think the really important thing for women
is we support each other across the political divide. We are all colleagues here in Parliament and
although we may totally disagree on public expenditure or Europe or gay marriage or any
of these issues, you can still work together quite collaboratively and be supportive. And I think women’s networks getting together
on occasion like this is absolutely vital if we’re to have any chance whatsoever of
trying to advance the cause of equality. I remember Justine Greening who is now in
the Cabinet on Overseas Development. Just after the 2010 election when the Coalition
first got in she was a junior minister in the Treasury and she got up and answered questions. It’s quite scary when you’re first a minister
and you’re up at the despatch box getting questions hauled at you. She answered without a bit of appear in front
of her and answered so competently and confidently – and that was very impressive. So I went up to her afterwards and said: ‘That
was brilliant’ – although I didn’t agree with a word she’d said, she’d performed
brilliantly. And when David Cameron got rid of a lot of
women in his Cabinet, including Caroline Spelman, just going up and saying: ‘I’m really
sorry you lost your job’ is a very supportive thing to do. And there’s a lot of that core support across
the piece which I think is really important. But this place is still a very macho place.
It’s still a very hard place for women. The whole way in which we do politics doesn’t
encourage women. I don’t ever go into Prime Minister’s
Questions because I can’t stand it. I can’t stand the way people just shout
at each other – it’s just a little school-boy battle really rather than an intelligent engagement
about issue that count. I’m told the Americans think it’s terrific
fun when they watch it on the telly but it just doesn’t seem to me to be serious engagement. Whereas where I think I helped and got things
done was when I chaired one of the select committees. Because we were more collaborative, we worked
across to try to build consensus – all those skills that women have. I think we got much further in really representing
our constituents’ interests and in furthering the issues which should be at the heart of
politics, whatever values inform your politics. So I think the way we do politics is still
difficult. I think what Labour has done about getting
more women is hugely important because the only way you’ll change it is by having more
women here. And we have been successful because we’ve
had positive action mechanisms within the Labour Party. So half the seats for which we’re selecting
candidates, where we know it’s a pretty safe seat – that they’ll return a Labour
MP – half of those have to have all-women shortlists. When we first introduced that everyone said
it was going to lead to second-rate people coming in. I must tell you two things: One, we’ve got the most brilliant bunch
of young women in the Parliamentary Labour Party now who I think will go far and achieve
a lot. Many of them came in through the all-women
shortlists but they outperform the boys – the men – so often that I don’t apologise
for that. And the other thing is that in those seats
where we didn’t have an all-women shortlist women could have been selected – there was
nothing to prevent women from coming in that way – but not one women came through from
that. So, if we hadn’t had the positive action mechanism,
we wouldn’t have achieved where we are now at 42 per cent. I don’t think any of the other parties will
get anywhere until sadly we take positive action for a period of time. The other thing to say is that having a strong
group of women is really important and can really influence policy. I was very privileged to be a member of Tony
Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s Governments during the thirteen years of Labour being in government
and we just really made a difference. Let me give you two examples: When tax credits were introduced, whatever
people think about them now, they were an attempt to redistribute wealth from richer
families to poorer families. And Gordon Brown wanted to put them into the
wallet so the man got it in his wage packet. It was a battle from the women MPs that said
to him: ‘It must go into the purse – it’s got to go
to the mother.’ It was all about supporting the children in
a family rather than going into the men’s pay packet. And we succeeded and we wouldn’t have done
that if there hadn’t been a bunch of women at the heart of government arguing the case
on that. The thing that I know would never have happened,
which I think has made the most dramatic difference in women’s lives, is the introduction of flexible
working. The right to request flexible working, which
I think is probably one of the most important changes that we introduced in the Labour Government. When we started talking about that, both Gordon
Brown and Tony Blair were completely and utterly and totally opposed to it because they thought
it would upset business. They thought businesses wouldn’t handle it. And it was because of the absolutely sustained
pressure form about ten of us here in Parliament who were all ministers – plus women who were working in number 10 and
supporting the PM and women working in number 11 supporting the Chancellor – all of us ganging up working together, plotting
together, we in the end persuaded them to do it. Interestingly enough, now it’s become commonplace
and in 85 or 90 per cent of cases where people request the right of flexible working it’s
granted. And it probably helped business do better
because it keeps in the business women who might otherwise not be able to cope both with
working and their caring responsibilities in the home. So, those are two examples of where it has
worked well. An example of where it’s working badly: Jeremy Corbyn now has hardly any women at
the top of his tree. He talks about the women he has in the shadow
cabinet but actually among the key people who’re influencing his direction there aren’t
women. So we got this disastrous thing about prostitution
the other day where I think he just didn’t understand it because there weren’t any women
around him. This was about whether we should decriminalise
prostitution. Whereas of course, I can’t think there a many
prostitutes who do it as a career. Most of them are forced in and locked into
drug addiction or poverty of some kind. And what we should really be doing is having
an offence against the men who try to pay for sex. And so the whole concept of decriminalising
that was so wrong. And I don’t put it down to his ill-will or
his wickedness. I think he just wasn’t surrounded by women. So I think the final thing I want to say is
this: The important thing for women I say for heaven’s
sake get involved with politics, it’s so important, it impacts on your life whether
it’s at a local level or in your community, in your local authority, in your school. Wherever it is, it has an impact on your life
and your family’s life. But I say this to the young women: our lives
aren’t a short sprint. If you see these young men floating away and
doing really well at 30, when they come in at 25-30, don’t think that you have to do
it all then. There are times in life when you won’t absolutely
push forward; when you will want to balance looking after babies, looking after elderly
relatives, whatever it is with the rest of your life. And you can actually stay at one level because
you don’t have to achieve it all today. You’re all probably going to work ‘til you’re
80 – which is a good thing because you’re going to live ‘til 100 plus – so you’ve
got a long, long, long life in front of you. It’s a big marathon and in your marathon you
can succeed. I didn’t come into Parliament until I was
50 because of my four children. I always worked and a lot of my contemporaries
in local government came here before me. I’m now in my 70s and I like to think that
I’ve just had the most successful five years of my professional career in my late 60s and
early 70s. And I’ve still got a heck of a lot of things
I want to achieve. So it is a long marathon – not a short sprint. Actually women are probably better at succeeding
in that marathon and we do need you here so please come and join us. Thankyou.>>LIZ PRICE: Thank you very much Margaret
Hodge, MP. When you were commenting about Parliament
having a long way to go I was looking around the room and noticing all the male portraits
around the room. [Laughter] So yes, not very representative with the artwork
either. So for our next talk now I’d like to welcome
Baroness Young.>>BARONESS YOUNG OF HORNSEY: Thank you. OK I’m going to go back to 1958. As Baroness D’Souza said earlier that was
the year when the House of Lords finally decided that it was OK for women to participate. I was actually alive in 1958 – some of you
in this room were too – and I think back to those days. Often we see them through rose-coloured spectacles. I don’t myself, but I do remember some of
the images from that time: the stiff, ramrod presenters of children’s
TV – not funky and relaxed like they are today. The Shadows were the nearest we came to a
Boy Band [Laughter] with Cliff Richard and the kind of hysteria
that surrounded them. The first James Bond book Dr No was published. ‘Coming out’ referred to debutantes coming
out into womanhood from their cloistered aristocratic beginnings. So that was 1958. But it’s so interesting because a little while
ago I did a bit of research for a lecture on women in the House of Lords from 1958. Here are some comments from members of the
Lords at the time, who were all hereditaries and so therefore male: One Earl found that: ‘Women in politics is highly distasteful;
in general they are organising, they are pushing and they are commanding’. So what’s the problem? If you’re a man those
are really good qualities, but not for a woman. He said the very thought of a female Lady
Chancellor – not a Lord Chancellor – is horrifying and enabled women to infiltrate
this robust unemotional world of male politics. And he said that to do that would be to encourage
them to: ‘Eat their way, like acid into metal, into
positions of trust and responsibility which previously men have held’. I think that’s the crux of the matter. It’s this idea that there’s a monstrous regiment
of women who’d come along and replace every male in the institution. When I was an academic I remember a fellow
academic male saying: ‘Oh God! The place is being taken over by
young women lecturers in mini-skirts!’ And I thought: ‘You wish!’ Because actually there was no sign of that
anywhere. I was thinking: ‘Where are you seeing this?’ He was obviously looking at the world through
totally different spectacles. In a way that leads me into the theme of what
I want to say which is around that thing of the personal being political. Because I know a lot of people are put off
by the idea of this robust world of politics where people stand up and make gestures and
scream and shout at each other. Even in the Lords where we’re more polite
it can still be a little bit of a bear pit. So that’s very off-putting for people. I don’t come from a party political background
at all. For me it was always about those things in
my childhood: I saw images of black people getting beaten
up in South Africa. I saw images of black people getting beaten
up in the USA. I saw hardly any images of women in the 1950s
and 1960s on TV. And as for that idea of identifying with role
models on TV, whether they be black or female, that just wasn’t on the agenda at all. It was those kinds of things that I thought
about more and more as I got older. And when I got involved in the Arts I saw
these same kinds of things being replicated there. People talk about the Arts as being very tolerant,
liberal, open and inclusive – and it’s just the same as anywhere else. Again there were these exclusions, pigeonholes. These ways of stigmatising and stereotyping
people which dictated the kind of roles you could play. So I was active in the actors’ union – Equity
– all the time that I acted. I didn’t really think of that as being politics
because to me it was about fairness, equality. It was about work. I couldn’t get work unless I was a nurse or
a prostitute. [Laughter] It was this crazy world where TV executives
thought you couldn’t have a black person as a bank manager because that would be too disruptive. So all of these things made me think all the
way through my working life about my position in society and what could I do for myself
and for others like me who found themselves in this position. I should also say that I was in care and that
was a very defining experience for me. Not defining in the sense of how I feel about
myself but in terms of shaping
my world view. So into that mix of concerns about gender
representation, race representation, came that whole thing about how do we treat people,
particularly children, who’ve come from difficult backgrounds – who’ve had difficult situations
to deal with in their lives? What happens to them when they’re looked after
by the so-called corporate parent and what happens to them when they’ve left that parent. So all those issues were swirling around when
Tony Blair’s Government brought in this idea: the much-maligned, People’s Peers. I can understand why it was trashed in a way. It was really trashed because of the class
system here in my view. I remember people saying, well: ‘People’s
Peers? What does that mean? Does that mean you could have say a hairdresser
as a member of the House of Lords?’ Again, I would think: ‘Why? What’s the problem
with that?’ It’s because there’s a certain kind of status,
a certain way of looking at people and thinking about people’s place in the world. And for many even still today being a member
of the House of Lords has a certain kind of cache, prestige, status which should be accorded
to certain kinds of individuals. And I’m sorry that Frances D’Souza isn’t still
here because I’d like to have a little bit of a dingdong with her about why there’s not
more women in the House of Lords because I think it’s disgraceful in an appointed House. We have hardly any legitimacy as it is as
we’re not elected. But then to have an appointed Chamber with
less women than the elected Chamber? That is absolutely disgraceful. And it’s not only the political parties. I have to say I was ashamed when I was doing
some research the other day to find the ratios for the different groups in the House of Lords. As of 12 Oct 2015, there were 201 female members
of the House of Lords – that’s out of about 850. Conservatives – 22 per cent of the group
are women; Lib Dems – 35 per cent of the group are
women; Labour – 31 per cent of the group are women
and, bottom of the pile, Crossbenchers have 21 per cent of the group. I just fail to understand this. I’m going to pursue this because we have a
House of Lords Appointments Commission that’s specifically been set up. It doesn’t have royal status but that doesn’t
prevent it from looking at the overall balance. And this is not about diluting the meritocracy
of the House of Lords. I should put ‘meritocracy’ in inverted commas
while I’m having a rant because it isn’t all about that, as Frances said. There’s too much by way of political patronage
that still goes on in the House of Lords. But we have an opportunity in the Crossbenchers. All Crossbenchers are appointed by a commission. You apply for it like a job. You fill in a form. You have interviews. So how come it’s not possible to get a better
balance? There’s very few minorities in the crossbenchers
as well. So again this is an issue where we have to
keep working at it. And I guess I call this talk ‘women’s work’
because people say: ‘Oh, women’s work is never done.’ And that always meant dusting, cleaning, cooking
– domestic duties. But that bigger work that women have to do,
that’s where we’ve really got to concentrate our efforts. One of the things I used to do as an academic
was look at the representation of different groups, the ways in which they were presented
to us, on TV or in the media. This was all before social media came about
and in some ways I’m quite glad I don’t have to trawl through loads of trolling tweets
in order to demonstrate how women are treated in the public domain. But there’s always one example that stands
out to me that I mention. I talked about it with a group of girls at
school the other day. How in 2002, when Theresa May was at the Conservative
Party Conference, all I could find out about what happened at the conference regarding
her was a picture of her shoes because she wore a pair of shoes that had this kind of
faux animal print on them. And there were loads of images of these neat
little kitten-heeled pointy shoes. I thought, what’s that got to do with the
Home Secretary precisely? I don’t see the focus on male shoes! Maybe that’s just as well, looking at some
of them – but there you go. But this sort of focus on the way in which
you present yourself. I’m not saying that’s not important and also
I would kind of defend saying – yes, women are more preoccupied with the way they look
partly because it can actually be quite pleasurable dressing up. I don’t think we need to be in a position
of having to deny difference but by the same token it’s the weight that’s accorded
to these particular practices that’s important. I do think that’s one of the positive things
about the House of Lords. First of all, it’s a place where older women
can have a bit of authority and gravitas and find a space to speak. Most of you are very young here to my eyes
but as you get older there is this kind of invisible-ization process that goes on. You’re either not there or you’re there and
in the way. You shouldn’t speak. So there are many examples of older women
who are totally fluent totally on top of their subject on a range of subjects and really
are an example to us all. Also one of the things that have been a constant
in my time in the House of Lords is that people will say they think there are more women in
the House of Lords than there are in the Commons. They will tell you there’s a much higher proportion
of women in the Lords than there are in the Commons but as we’ve already said that is
not the case. However it is the case that women do tend
to have more leadership roles in the House of Lords and that means that the visibility
is greater. I think there’s a level on which there are
more women because some of the research seems to say that more women attend more regularly
than the men. So there is that thing of getting down to
the business, getting on with the work. In the past and I think to some extent still
today the House of Lords is treated like it’s an old Gentlemen’s Club. And there is some truth to that if you look
around the dining rooms and the guest rooms. You can see there’s still the shadow of that
situation there. I’m not saying women don’t sit around and
eat and drink and all the rest of it but a lot of women do really get on with the job. In my time we’ve had two Lord Speakers – they’ve
both been women. I think three of the four Leaders of the House
that I’ve seen have been women. There have been women on the front bench across
a variety of subjects. So I suppose, as I come to a conclusion, things
do change. As I was saying the other day and I used an
example from popular culture because I still have interest in that area. I remember Sigourney Weaver in Alien in 1979. Some of you may have seen that film either
at the time or later. I remember women friends coming back from
seeing that movie and saying: ‘Oh my God! It’s a really good film for
women!’ Because there’s a woman survivor. She’s strong;
she’s intelligent and she holds centre stage. And of course the alien itself is female and
v powerful although a very evil character. So there is a bit of continuity here. With regard to Sigourney Weaver, then she
was in Ghostbusters, although she had a relatively minor role. In Ghostbusters all the types of masculinity
are captured in the male characters and now in 2016 we have an all-female group of Ghostbusters. Now that might seem like a really trivial
thing but actually these kinds of things are really quite important. Because there’s this really interesting
complex interchange between what society is or is thought of as being. The ways in which politicians or other opinion-formers
and opinion-shapers think society is and what society can take. There’s us who are in society and we know
what change we can take and what progress we are able to see. And sometimes in popular culture you get just
this sense of a movement in a slightly different direction. So for me I think politicians would do well
to take note of that and to understand that if we are truly to represent – it’s the
simplest calculation that we have. If we start talking about representation of
ethnic minorities and religions and other areas where there’s much discrimination it
gets quite complicated. But with women it’s very simple: fifty percent
of the population more or less women. Fifty percent more or less men. So representation is an easy calculation. So I think I’ll end there.>>LIZ PRICE: Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *