UK

Choosing work over children – an MPs dilemma. By Julia Kozieja

Lately, a debate has surfaced in the Commons on whether children should be allowed in Parliament. It began when Labour MP Stella Creasy brought her infant to a debate. This allowed her to attend the debate but after it was finished, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle reprimanded her for bringing her child into the House of Commons. Her infant slept peacefully and Creasy had taken both her children into the Commons before without being reprimanded. So why did this suddenly become a problem? While it was this incident that was brought to the public eye, this had always been an issue. As a rule, children are not allowed to be present in the Commons, but many argue that this rule should be abolished. We live in a society where working while parenting is being increasingly promoted through the modernization of laws. So why shouldn’t Parliamentary laws be modernized as well?

While it has been made easier to work as a parent, not all women are keen to do so. There are fears that being a parent will hold them back from opportunities and promotions, making women feel inferior to men. In a world where equality is a basic human right, that is entirely unacceptable. For centuries, women have been second-class to men, with their only purpose seen as being a mother. Recently, society has attempted to bring equality across both genders with the introduction of equal pay and non-gender-specific jobs. And we have succeeded. Slightly. To obtain true equality, women must be shown that they don’t have to choose between a job and children but that they can do both.

 

Parliament should set an example for the rest of the country. The role of MPs is to represent their people – if citizens can see that even their representatives can juggle work and children, they’ll believe they can as well.  MPs already represent people when it comes to laws; let them represent citizens as parents too. MPs have modernized society’s laws regarding maternity cover and the gender pay gap, so why shouldn’t they benefit from the laws themselves? The House of Parliament is a century-old institution filled with traditions. The opening of Parliament and the House of Lords are all parliamentary aspects that have been passed throughout the centuries. Attitudes towards children in Parliament have also largely remained the same. Most fail to realize that the anathema of children in Parliament first emerged in a period where only men were allowed to stand as MPs. Political representation has changed since then, so why shouldn’t parliamentary laws be changed as well? The prohibition of children in Parliament benefits nobody and only holds women back. Being an MP is one of the only jobs in the country that requires women to choose between work and children. These rules must change, as this society already has.

 

Perhaps many parliamentarians believe that if children will be allowed to be present in Parliament; then Parliament will become a day-care instead of a place of law. That is not true. Bringing children to Parliament will often be the last resort for female MPs and even then, it will be mostly sleepy infants that will present.  Many forget that the Parliamentary session occurs during term time and school hours, meaning that most female MPs will not bring their children to Parliament with them. Many would argue that Parliament should stop concentrating on such trivial things and instead focus on bigger problems, especially in today’s time. Migration, COVID-19, and climate change are currently some of the most pressing issues in the UK. However, instead of cooperating and putting all their efforts into solving these issues, MPs choose to concentrate on maintaining an outdated rule. Even MPs involved in the recent sleaze scandal, (where MPs were revealed to earn additional incomes in addition to their already generous one), faced less disciplinary action than some women had for bringing their children into Parliament. Put it simply, Parliament thinks that it is worse to be a parent than it is to be a corrupt MP.

 

As this rule mainly affects women, Parliament is seen as being a sexist institution.  Not only does Parliament not offer sufficient maternity cover, but it also prohibits mothers from taking their children to work. As the rulebook was largely drawn by men, this is not surprising. Even recently, parliamentarians have become more misogynistic despite the MeToo movement and calls for gender equality. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle stated that: “Rules have to be seen in context and they change with the times”, but he was the individual that reprimanded Stella Creasy for bringing her child to parliament. While the presence of children in parliament was not prohibited in theory until September, it was frowned upon to the point where most female MPs never took their children into parliament for fear of criticism. It was only in September that the presence of children in the Commons was officially banned – a new law stated that “you should not take your seat in the chamber when accompanied by your child, nor stand at either end of the Chamber, between divisions”. This only worsened the issue – many female MPs now feel that they cannot have children at all. While this rule also affects male MPs – those who are single fathers or the primary caregiver of their children – it is women that are most affected.  Most of society still see women as the primary caregiver of their children and while this view is being challenged it will be a while until it is fully accepted by society. The introduction of such rules only makes it hard for societal views to change. Change in society should come from laws and not vice versa.

 

While society is moving towards gender inequality parliament has stayed put on this issue. Some would even argue that Parliament has gone backward – it has introduced new laws that restrict women’s rights instead of abolishing old ones. MPs constantly preach for gender equality without realizing that their own institution is holding women back. Change must come from within before gender equality is fully achieved.

 



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