I was seven months pregnant when I was called to the Bar. The moment marked not only the start of my career as a barrister but of an elaborate and challenging balancing act between my children and my work.
As a parent, you have to make sacrifices, professionally and with your kids, and it's easy to feel you don't get it right. In my case, I had witnessed so much negative stereotyping against working mothers - not least through my specialism in employment discrimination - that for a long time I kept the fact of my children secret from everyone but immediate colleagues. I would indicate that I was dashing off to a meeting, when in fact I was running for the nursery. I used to put the kids to bed and then would be back at my desk. That wasn't the only thing depriving me of sleep, as a lone parent. The expense of paying someone else to care for your children while you work can keep you awake at night (just as often as they do).
These issues helped to bring me to the Women's Equality Party and fuel my campaign to become the MP for Vauxhall, where I am standing for election on 8 June. There were other ways in which the party appealed to me, too. I agreed that it was time for a new and more collaborative way of doing politics, and to open up elected bodies to more diversity. None of the old parties spoke to me or for me. But it was the determination of the Women's Equality Party to enable any woman who wanted to work to do so and to dismantle the barriers and biases that mean employers are still apt to penalise female employees not only for getting pregnant but simply for being of an age where they might do so that swung it for me. The parents I've been speaking to as I canvass tell me these issues are decisive for many of them too.
That's why I stood for the Women's Equality Party for the London Assembly last year and I am proud to stand again for a party that in its new manifesto, out today, will introduce free childcare from the end of parental leave to school age. Free childcare would have transformed my life. It will transform the lives of so many women and men, as well transforming the economy by freeing parents to get back to work, boosting jobs in the childcare sector and closing the gender pay gap which is partly built on the motherhood penalty.
It seems the other parties are finally cottoning on. When I read Labour's leaked manifesto, which hints at a move towards universal childcare, I gave two cheers. There might have been a third but Labour's plans, at least in draft form, are only for three- and four-year-olds: what happens to the toddlers whose parents need to (get back to) work? In fact, Labour's 'new' plans look very similar to the ones proposed by the Women's Equality Party in its first policy document back in 2015 - plans that made me join the party, and that have since been emboldened and expanded in keeping with our ambitions to revolutionise this country's approach to the economy.
Our new manifesto will set out our ambitions in full. It is packed full of policies that will lift women - and consequently men, children and older people too - by focusing on social infrastructure, and creating a caring economy that works for individuals, families and communities while also growing and sustaining the economy.
Since the Women's Equality Party started, we've seen other parties pick up our ideas and policies. This was always part of our plan -- we just wish they'd take more of them and in greater detail. To help them do so, we'll be sending out our manifesto to all the other parties with a note attached: "steal me".
WE are changing the old parties simply by standing, but change isn't coming fast enough. That's why I will fight for every vote in Vauxhall. I want parents like me to have positive options instead of tough choices. And I want to make Westminster serve the entire population by reflecting the entire population and drawing on a far wider range of perspectives and experiences. In my work as a barrister, I see first-hand the process and the effect of law-making that is done almost exclusively by privileged white men. I want to be at the heart of a new politics where the lawmakers include people who look like me and understand my experiences. The Women's Equality Party understands that diversity drives real change. We are hugely varied, but we are united. And our common goal of equality is better for everyone.
Harini Iyengar is the Women's Equality Party candidate for Vauxhall