Rosie Duffield MP
Last Friday was International Women’s Day, a day when we celebrate all women, raise awareness of the issues affecting us and consider the actions we can take to advance women’s rights. The fact is, we have much further to go until we achieve total economic, social, and political equality between women and men.
I’m really proud to be Canterbury’s first female MP. We’ve come a long way since the first woman was elected to Parliament in 1918. Now, 32% of MPs are women; it’s taken a long time to reach that figure, and while things are moving in the right direction, a lot still has to change, and change faster.
In my view, the make-up of Parliament must reflect the society it is supposed to represent. That’s why I’ve been a strong advocate for #5050Parliament since being elected. The campaign does fantastic work to encourage more women to stand as MPs, and to spread the message of how important it is that we achieve a 50:50 split in the House of Commons. Perhaps if you know a woman who would make a great local councillor, why not ask them to stand? Sometimes, all it takes is a conversation or a little nudge to give someone the confidence to do so.
While gender inequality exists around the world and takes many forms; it’s also right on our doorstep: Fantastic local homelessness charity Porchlight recently published research on how homelessness is affecting women in Kent. They found that Kent has one of the highest percentages of women rough sleepers in the country, and that homelessness affects them in very specific and worrying ways. These include being more likely to experience violence whilst on the streets and at higher risk of sexual assault or rape. They also found that the reasons why women end up homeless are more complex and multi-faceted than those for men. Many are homeless because they are escaping domestic violence or abusive relationships, making their journey out of homeless extremely challenging.
I’m grateful to Porchlight for shining light on this issue, and for recently meeting with me again to share their findings. I’m keen to continue working with them as they begin to implement their strategy for tackling this issue and will help as much as I can in raising the matter beyond our area.
Also doing excellent work for women in Kent are domestic abuse charity Rising Sun. To put in perspective just how important their work is: 1.9 million people in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse last year, 1.2 million of whom were women. In Kent, 14,000 domestic abuse arrests were made in the year 2016-17. And the headline also emerged recently that in the UK, a woman dies from domestic abuse every three days. These are really shocking numbers and further evidence of the progress that’s desperately needed.
So while the journey to women’s equality has a way to go, it’s encouraging that we have these brilliant local groups providing support to the vulnerable women in our communities. But we’ve all got to play our part – let’s use International Women’s Day as an opportunity to educate others and ourselves. Because while it’s true that gender disparity is preventing women from advancing in society, it’s also preventing our society from truly advancing as a whole.