Of course, it is difficult to talk about anything that happened last Thursday without mentioning the appalling incident that led to the death of my wonderful colleague, Jo Cox.
Jo was a passionate voice for gender equality in politics, the Labour movement, as former Chair of the Labour Women’s Network, and wider society as well as a strong campaigner for a Remain vote. Indeed, we saw her husband, Brendan, and her children taking to their boat to protest the Brexit flotilla just last week on the Thames.
I know that she saw membership of the EU as a resoundingly positive thing for women and so I will try to talk about this issue and the event I took part in on Thursday as I would normally do on this blog. I am confident that Jo’s voice would have continued to be one of the loudest in speaking out about gender equality and it is only fitting that we continue to do so.
Women for Remain Event
Last week I took part in an event at the Dolphin Centre in Darlington, together with Yvette Cooper MP and my Labour colleagues from across the region, Helen Goodman MP and Jenny Chapman MP, along with Jessie Joe Jacobs from the Stronger In campaign. The purpose of this event was to highlight how important membership of the EU has been, and doubtless will continue to be, in promoting gender equality.
The North East is a region with a very high proportion of female MPs- one of just many fantastic things about our region!- and so it was great to have so many of us at one event, along with Yvette who has done so much to promote gender equality.
The event was attended by a range of women, from varying political and social backgrounds, and what emerged was a very productive and interesting discussion not only relating to how the EU benefits us currently, but also how we might engage with the EU moving forward to continue to push the equality agenda.
It is through EU wide regulations that women have the legal right to equal pay; that there are guaranteed rights for part time and flexible workers, like the 7.8 million women working part-time in the UK; that there is paid maternity leave and the right to return to work without loss of position or pay; and EU regulations offer protection for everyone from gender-based discrimination in the workplace.
I do not think it would be fair to suggest that these rights would instantly be revoked if we were not in the EU but it is undeniable that the EU has been a powerful force for driving gender equality and empowering women.
As part of the International Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I am very involved with parliamentarians from all across the world, who serve in their national Parliaments. I know that the issue of gender equality, and in particular the equal representation of women, is best promoted through common endeavour; when we can share best practice and learn from other places. The EU provides a fantastic forum for us to engage not only with other EU countries but also as a body to further that agenda across the world.
So let’s take up that mantle and move it forward. Let’s do more, let’s demand more, and let’s expect more. Let’s continue to work with countries across the EU so that it becomes an international example of what a regional body can achieve when it comes to gender equality.
Of course, EU membership isn’t just better for women in the North East and wider UK. There are distinct advantages for all of us, both specific to the region and nationally, to staying in Europe.
I hope that we will see a high turn out on Thursday and that the women and men of the North East will use their votes to tell the rest of the UK that we are indeed stronger, safer and better off in the EU.