Today we celebrate International Women’s Day and I am delighted that Downtown in Business will be hosting our annual women in business gala awards lunch this afternoon, highlighting the exceptional talent of female entrepreneurs from across the Liverpool city region. We will be joined by athletic champion turned property investor Goldie Sayers in a week when women in sport have had much to shout about, not least with England’s Lionesses winning the prestigious SheBelieves Cup, having defeated Brazil and Japan, and drawing with women’s football’s number one ranked USA.
It is a shame our female politicians haven’t had as successful a week. Quite the opposite in fact. Theresa May has failed to convince many that there is no link between the horrific knife-crime epidemic and her time as Home Secretary and austerity. Her cabinet colleague Amber Rudd was forced to apologise after describing Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott as “coloured” and the Northern Ireland minister Karen Bradley was also saying “sorry” for remarks relating to past troubles in the province.
To take some comfort from these political leaders’ misfortune we can at least note that we have females in senior roles now – the most senior of all in the country in fact – and their misdemeanours are at least as likely to occur from their male counterparts from time to time.
On the downside, women in the Westminster arena still have to contend with 19th Century facilities and procedures in a 21st Century world. In a recent vote on Brexit an MP had to cancel her caesarean section in order to participate. Ridiculous unnecessary and unproductive late-night sittings are still a fixture of commons life. The ‘Strangers Bar’ is still the hub where many ‘deals’ are struck to confirm promotions.
Life beyond the walls of Westminster is not too kind either. The reason Rudd made her unfortunate intervention was as a result of being asked to respond to the appalling online bullying that Abbott has been subjected to in recent years. She is not the only female MP to suffer such misogynist and racist attacks – Luciana Berger among the most high-profile cases, but certainly not exclusive. Follow a timeline from the Twitter accounts of Stella Creasy, Angela Rayner or Anna Soubry and you will be appalled.
Of course, male MPs get abuse. But there is something sinister and threatening as to the tone of the narrative surrounding the keyboard warrior misogynists who appear to take great delight in adopting their menacing, bullying approach towards female politicians. The murder of Jo Cox still haunts the corridors of power in the House of Commons. The left, by the way, are at least as guilty as the right in relation to online abuse.
Labour, disappointingly, has yet to elect a female party leader. The new Independent Group have selected a man as its leader. The elected mayors from across the Northern Powerhouse are all men. There is still an awfully long way to go before politics can be seen by women as an ‘equal opportunity’. Things have improved – but nowhere near enough.