The treatment of mothers in public life needs to change
Next month I return to Parliament from six months’ maternity leave following the birth of my beautiful daughter in summer recess last year.
I am looking forward to being back but my leave has often been in name only. I have been back to Westminster following the death of Her Majesty Elizabeth II and I have taken part in many constituency visits and meetings while being in constant contact with my team regarding urgent casework and being a new mum.
I have cherished the time we have had to bond as a family at our home in Staffordshire. It is the right of every woman to take maternity leave and I am glad I did. It was a tough time too at the start. I underwent major surgery following the birth due to serious complications while in labour. I remained at the Royal Stoke Hospital for nearly a week and it will take several more months for me to recover from surgery.
However, being an MP, a mum and taking time off is a unique position. It cannot be covered by maternity leave in the same way as other jobs because it is an elected office. I have no problem with that, but that wasn’t good enough for those who were keen to criticise.
Just before Christmas, I spoke of my dismay about a tiny minority of constituents and the social media trolls telling me I should get back to work.
My wonderful staff dealt with dozens of phone calls from angry people who demanded to see me or to tell me I should be doing one meeting or the other.
Social media was no better. I regularly hid or blocked comments on Facebook and Twitter from those unhappy I had a child.
It is worth putting here some of the things some people said to my staff. They included: “She had the baby in August, I pay her wages, tell her to get back to work.”
“You can’t be an MP and want to go off and have children.”
“This constituency needs a hard-working MP who doesn’t just take six months off when she fancies it.”
The 2010 Equality Act says a woman is legally entitled to a year’s maternity leave - something that apparently does not apply if the woman in question is a politician.
I thought long and hard over whether I should say anything. Eventually I decided to call out the abuse because fundamentally I don’t believe that women should have to choose between being a politician and a mother. This is the 21st century and we can and should do both. And if we want to have a more inclusive and representative democracy then we need more women to stand for public office.
Bigotry, by its very essence, is short sighted and it fails to understand that those who are mothers are valuable to public life. Their experience is vital if we are to have good governance and as broad a range of people in Parliament as possible. Being a mum has helped inform my views on important issues such as maternity services, the cost of childcare and the importance of education.
I also passionately believe we need more women in public life, but the climate will have to radically change if we are to have any chance of success.
I will not be deterred by this abuse and instead I will redouble my efforts on my return to Parliament in February to help women in society deal with this sort of discrimination and use my experience to help others.
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