British, Irish and Kenyan politicians join Women MPs of the World conference in London

Women MPs of the World
Women MPs from around the world together in the House of Commons. Photo: Twitter/seyiakiwowo

Yesterday, 120 female politicians from 5 continents and  86 countries, including the UK, Ireland and Kenya, met in London’s Houses of Parliament to mark 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to stand for election to parliament.

This historic conference was co-hosted by Harriet Harman together with the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP, the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Foreign Office, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Wilton Park.

Prime Minister Theresa May had hosted a conference opening reception in Downing Street the night before.

Writing for the Politics Home website about the conference, Ms Harman said: “Our countries are very different but as women MPs our goals are the same. We want to be on equal terms with the men in parliament, exercising power to deliver equality for women and nothing less.”

Joining the debate were Sophia Fernandes, a British MP of Kenyan heritage, and the first black woman to be elected in the UK, Diane Abbott, who is speaking at the Bandung conference in Nairobi later this month. 

Representing Kenya was MP for Ijara, Garissa County, Sophia Abdi Noor, who last year become the first woman from North Eastern to be elected to Parliament.

Mrs Noor is a founder member of ‘Womankind Kenya’ a group that advocates for girls education and women issues. She was first nominated to parliament by the Orange Democratic Movement in 2007.

Through her work, the former teacher has dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of women in the northern region of Kenya; she has been forefront in fighting retrogressive cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilations.

The one-day event brought together women MPs from around the world to celebrate their achievements, discuss how to strengthen visibility, and further empower women parliamentarians to continue to drive change nationally and internationally. The event’s aim was to inspire the next generation, contribute to women’s equal participation in parliaments globally, and demonstrate how elected women around the world are shaping the political agenda and making a difference to women and girls in their home countries. Delegates discussed how to advocate for greater representation of women in parliament and public life, as well as exploring the specific challenges facing women MPs and how these might be overcome. 

In the morning, the focus was on sharing women MPs’ experiences and what can be done to help them become more effective, counter harassment and abuse, balance family and political responsibilities, and help more women get into parliament. 

The afternoon explored how women parliamentarians are spearheading policy change and how to amplify this, by shining a spotlight on four policy areas that affect the lives of women and girls: promoting women’s economic empowerment; ending violence against women and girls; championing efforts to enable all women to have access to voluntary family planning; and breaking the barriers to girls’ education. 

Community organisations and charities working for women’s rights were invited into the public gallery to watch the debates. 

Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt MP said:

“Without the determined and inspiring women who fought for the vote, my fellow women MPs and I would not be doing the jobs we do today. We currently have the highest number of women in history sitting in the House of Commons, but only 32% of MPs are women. Worldwide, only 24% of people elected into political office are women.

“We have a long way to go before we see true equality. We want more women to feel empowered and supported to enter politics and drive change nationally and internationally.

“That’s why I am thrilled to be co-hosting elected women from around the world at this historic event in London.

“This centenary year we are not just celebrating the achievements of the women who came before us – we are helping women here and now to tackle gender inequality around the world.”

Mother of the House of Commons Harriet Harman MP said: 

“Women have fought their way into nearly every parliament in the world.  But it’s not enough for us just to be there, we want to exercise power on equal terms with men in parliament.  As only relatively recent arrivals, women MPs are still pioneers in male dominated parliaments.

“At this historic conference we will get together to share our experience, our successes and setbacks. We’ll determine to fight yet harder to get equality for women in our countries.  We’ll make links so we can work together in the future. We’ll strengthen our resolve to fight the backlash against women in public life and to get yet more women into parliaments.  

“Our countries are very different but as women parliamentarians are goals are the same.  We want equality for women and nothing less.  The sisterhood is global and this will be a historic event”.

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