Female politicians still face “real hostility” - including threats of rape and violence - for trying to do their jobs, MPs and leading campaigners have warned ahead of events to mark the birthday of murdered MP Jo Cox.
Sam Smethers, the chief executive of women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society, said women in Parliament have gone to “radical lengths” to protect themselves in the two years since the Labour MP was killed, with politicians hiring extra security and installing panic buttons.
“There is still real hostility to our elected politicians, particularly to women who are in the public eye and who are speaking out about issues of feminism and equality,” Smethers said.
Cox, a mum of two young children, was shot and stabbed to death by 53-year-old Thomas Mair in her west Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen one week before the EU referendum in 2016.
In a survey conducted by BBC Radio Five Live a year later, two-thirds of female MPs who responded said they felt less safe after the murder.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW POLITICS
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more
Smethers said the threats put women off from pursuing a career in politics, “which is ultimately not good for equality, or not good for democracy”.
I try not to catch the tube after 9pm Dawn Butler, MP
But shadow women and equalities secretary, Dawn Butler said that the safety of female MPs outside of Parliament is still not being prioritised.
“I do not believe that our safety outside of parliament is as much as a priority as it should be,” she said.
“I now spend a lot of money every month on taxis because it can be quite intimidating when someone you don’t know knows your name. And you’re alone.
“I try not to catch the tube after 9pm.”
A number of incidents in recent months have highlighted the potential vulnerability of female politicians. In April, a factory worker from Eastbourne was jailed for four months after threatening to go to the home of Tory MP Caroline Ansell and stab her “to death”.
Meanwhile, Labour backbencher Jess Phillips recently revealed she received 600 rape threats in a single night on social media.
But she told HuffPost UK Parliament has “done what it can”, pushing her to put extra security in place in the wake of Cox’s death.
I think about whether somebody could just shoot me through the window Jess Phillips, MP
Philips said: “Special security and alarms have been put in my house and my office has now got door entry system with video and things on,” adding that she also has a panic room.
“I do feel scared sometimes, yeah,” the Birmingham Yardley MP admitted. “Of course I don’t feel as safe as I did.
“I think about whether somebody could just shoot me through the window. But it doesn’t change the things I do or agree to do.”
She said she would be making an “act of defiance” over the weekend by celebrating Cox’s life in her community.
“When my constituents hear about people being awful to me or attacking me or targeting me, I get hundreds of messages of support and them making sure I’m alright, so there’s something brilliant about being a female MP as well.”
This weekend the second annual Great Get Together - a series of celebrations across the UK aimed at bringing communities together - will mark what would have been Cox’s 44th birthday.
Iona Lawrence, director of the Jo Cox Foundation, said the lifelong campaigner was passionate about encouraging more women to stand for office.
“What women MPs from all parties tell us is that one of the most important ways of protecting them is to drive out the hatred that can lead to extremism and political violence,” she said.
“Building stronger communities is one way of achieving that and that’s what The Great Get Together is all about.”
Great Get Together events will be taking place across the UK June 22-24. The Fawcett Society will be holding a picnic near the Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square as part of the celebrations.