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Women2day: Why the 2017 General Election was a landslide victory for women

'It may have been branded a disaster but it made history for female gender'

MPs Dianne Abbott, Jo Cox and Mhairi Black

The recent General Election may have been branded a disaster for some but it has made history for the female gender.

There are now a record number of female MPs in the House of Commons after 208 women – the highest ever number – were elected to Parliament. So if that’s not worth devoting this week’s column to, I don’t know what is.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s re-election took the 2017 figure past the 2015 total of 192 when she (only just) defended her Hastings and Rye seat.

Particularly interesting was that this record was broken on the 104th anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who became a symbol of the fight for women’s emancipation when she died after throwing herself under the King’s horse at Epsom races on June 8, 1913.

It was not until five years after this that women were first allowed to stand for Parliament. In that same year of 1918 when women over 21 were first allowed to vote, Constance Markievicz became the first ever female MP to be elected to the Commons.

She never ended up taking her seat because she was a member of Sinn Fein but still – history had been made.

It is incredible to think that less than 100 years ago, women were not even allowed to vote and now there are more women in parliament than at any other poing in history.

A watershed moment for women in politics came in 1997 when the number of women MPs literally doubled overnight as Tony Blair became Prime Minister.

A massive 120 female MPs (known as ‘Blair’s Babes’) were elected to the House of Commons in Labour’s landslide election victory – and the number has continued to rise ever since.

Twenty years later in 2017, 32% of MPs are now female, according to the BBC, but this varies significantly between the parties – Labour are stepping closer to equality with 45%, but only 21% of Conservative MPs are women. Among the new recruits for Labour is Laura Smith, who sensationally won the Crewe and Nantwich seat by just 48 votes.

For us women, it is a wonderful thing – because by being better represented, we can hope for voices that support the issues that have an impact on us – such as rape conviction rates maternity leave and workplace equality.

Last year, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas wrote a thought-provoking article in which she said: “Hopefully a more gender equal politics would mean high profile women no longer being subjected to endless commentary, and judgement, on the way we look and the clothes we are wearing.

“The whole thing needs a massive overhaul. That, in turn, will have an effect on women having a voice in the boardroom, in the media, in science laboratories, in our courts, in the digital sector. In all those places women are currently sidelined.”

Iconic female MPs of recent times

Diane Abbott

Diane made history in 1987 by becoming the first black woman ever elected to the British Parliament. Over the years she has faced horrendous levels of racial and misogynist abuse – to the extent where she said she had been advised not to walk the streets alone. She was heavily criticised after a few blunders in some election TV interviews earlier this month but she got her own back on her critics by being re-elected to the Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat she’s held for the past 30 years, increasing her majority by over 11,000 to over 35,000.

Jo Cox

Labour MP Jo Cox had held her seat as MP for Batley and Spen for just a year when she was shot and stabbed multiple times minutes before she was due to hold a constituency surgery.

She spent much of her time doing good – such as working with aid agency Oxfam and humanitarian campagning. She worked to galvanise international action to stop mums and babies dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth.

And she was national chair of Labour Women’s Network for four terms to encourage more women to enter public life, amongst other things.

Mhairi Black

Elected as the youngest MP (for Paisley and Renfrewshire) for 350 years in 2015 at the age of just 20, Black has become a strong voice in Parliament, openly voicing the need for greater diversity in the Westminster bubble and championing LGBT rights as well as tackling the national food bank crisis.

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