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First female LibDem MP to attend Cabinet


There is only one mother in the UK Cabinet.Historic moment highlights huge equality gap.

A newly-created role that brings Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Willott to Cabinet meetings when shared parental leave and workplace rights are on the agenda serves as yet another reminder of how far from equality are women in politics and Parliament.

Willott is the first Liberal Democrat woman to sit at the Cabinet table.

She is also the only mother in the UK Cabinet.

And the number of women in the Cabinet is at a 15-year low.

Willott is covering LibDem MP Jo Swinson’s ministerial duties as the Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Women and Equalities Minister in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, as Swinson is currently on maternity leave.

Willott’s new role comes hot on the heels of the Conservative Party’s admission that the new Women’s Minister, Nicky Morgan, is effectively subordinate to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Sport and Equalities, Sajid Javid.

Previously, the role of Minister for Women and Equalities had been one single post.

However, following Maria Miller’s resignation after her expenses scandal, the ministerial post was split because Morgan had previously voted against gay marriage.

Nicky Morgan also ‘attends Cabinet’.

Willott is a mother of two, a fact that shouldn’t need to be relevant to her professional work.

It is relevant, however, simply because of the lack of politically powerful women who are mothers.

In 2012, researchers Dr Rosie Campbell and Professor Sarah Childs examined the parental status of MPs.

They found that ‘women MPs are less likely to have children than male MPs; more likely to have fewer children than male MPs; and enter Parliament when their children are older than the children of male MPs.

‘Those staggering differences are clear evidence that there are serious barriers to Parliament for those with caring responsibilities, most often mothers,’ Campbell said earlier this year.

And Deborah Orr wrote in the Guardian recently that ‘Women have good reasons to be suspicious of any argument that comes within a million miles of ‘reducing me to a womb’.

‘But the paradox is that institutional discrimination against women can never be defeated unless institutional discrimination against mothers is defeated, too.

‘Because, until it is, there won’t be the necessary critical mass of women in a position to answer that fundamentally important call to arms.’

Following Maria Miller’s resignation and the ensuing mini Cabinet reshuffle, Nan Sloane, director of the Centre for Women in Democracy pointed out that the number of women in Cabinet was now at its lowest level since 1997, more than 15 years ago.

And when the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) reported in January 2014 on the proportion of women cabinet ministers, the UK was 20 out of 28 EU countries and 54 worldwide.

Without a consistently strong voice for women, essential perspectives, experiences and diversity of opinion are left out of government policies.

Also writing in the Guardian, Lola Okolosie pointed out that many of the major policy wins for women and equality have come not from the Minister for Women and Equalities but from other departments, organisations and campaigns.

Ever since Harriet Harman, the first Minister for Women and Equality (MWE), took up the post, ‘every MWE has held another, often high-profile, ministerial role – ensuring it is seen as more of an extracurricular activity than a cabinet position.’

‘What are the chances of real change when the portfolio so evidently remains little more than a tokenistic exercise aimed at feminising the image of a government where women are so sadly lacking?’ Okolosie asked.

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