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Why We Must #BeBoldForChange In Politics And The Legal Profession

08/03/2017 14:52

all women everywhere

International Women's Day this year is asking us to #BeBoldForChange and call for a more gender inclusive world. But what more will we all stand to gain if we achieve gender parity and a more gender inclusive world?

Watching the recent debate in Parliament on the proposed UK state visit from Donald Trump, it was noticeable that all the MPs, with the odd exception, giving speeches defending the visit were white men. Those speaking out against the visit spanned the gender and racial divide. There were powerful emotional speeches, in particular, from women and both men and women of colour who could draw on personal experience to illustrate their arguments.

By contrast, Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, asked an astounded room and country, 'which one of us has not made some ridiculous sexual comment at some time in our past?'.

We may assume that equality of representation is an inherent good in a democracy but do we actually stand to gain on a substantive level when women are equally represented? The answer is yes and we saw the impact of more women in politics, and indeed men and women of colour in that debate on the morality of rolling out the red carpet to Trump.

Of course, there are plenty of men horrified by Trump and many of them spoke up also, but it was the almost universal absence of women to defend Trump which struck me most.

We all go through life encountering a specific set of experiences. Those experiences make us who we are, they shape our beliefs and they help us determine our priorities. For most of our history, the experiences of most of those in power were, largely speaking, very similar. From gender to race, sexuality, religion, class and educational attainment, this lack of diversity gave us a political class whose beliefs and priorities had, broadly speaking, been forged through shared experiences.

Perhaps it was his own set of experiences which led Sir Edward Leigh to conclude:

As regards the argument of racism, I do not believe there is any proof that the travel ban is racist.... to accuse the new President of the United States of racism, misogyny and all the rest is overstating it.

If you have not experienced racism, misogyny and 'all the rest', perhaps you do think that these charges are overstated.

If, on the other hand, you've seen these things close up or indeed been a victim to them, you not only recognise them but you recognise the importance of calling them out. Now, of course those of us who have been privileged to live lives free of such discrimination can, and often do, lend our voices as allies. But, there can be no replacement for personal experience and the perspective and drive it gives us. And so, I'm thankful for the growing diversity we see across all society, and more convinced than ever of the importance of gender parity in politics.

Because look at what we have to gain when we embrace diverse representation. It is no coincidence that some of the key achievements of the Labour government elected in 1997 with record breaking numbers of women MPs included the increases in child benefit, free breast cancer screening and the reduction of VAT on sanitary products from 17.5% to 5%.

Taking an example from my own profession, the judiciary remains woefully unrepresentative. When the Supreme Court heard the recent Article 50 judgement on mass, Lady Hale's position as the sole female Supreme Court Justice, was a stark reminder of this. I should add that the lack of any kind of racial diversity in the Supreme Court and these disparities across the legal profession could be subject of an entire separate article. Tasked with deciding some of the most important cases in the country, I can't help but be concerned that our highest court in the land represents so little in the way of diversity of experience. For it would be naïve to think that the experience of a judge has no bearing on how they approach their consideration of a case.

With Lord Neuberger's announcement of retirement, the Supreme Court is hiring. They are looking for a new President and two, possibly three new justices. I hope that in considering these applications, the Supreme Court decides to Be Bold For Change and, in so doing, helps to forge a more gender inclusive world. For it is clear that an attitude of being gender inclusive and its result in greater gender parity, will lead to greater benefits for us all.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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