FORMER FRONT-BENCHER Rachel Reeves says there are still glass ceilings for women to shatter before there is true equality in politics – and public life.
The MP was speaking ahead of International Women’s Day and the launch of a new campaign in Leeds by the Yorkshire Evening Post to honour the West Yorkshire city’s female pioneers.
In an irony of timing, this year’s event also coincides with Philip Hammond’s first Budget. Yet, despite Theresa May being Britain’s second female premier, no woman – Tory or Labour – has ever served as Chancellor or Shadow Chancellor.
“International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on how far we’ve come in terms of the battle of equality between men and women,” said the Leeds West MP who held the work and pensions portfolio in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet.
“There are still glass ceilings to be shattered. I would like to see equal representation of men and women in Parliament and in the Cabinet. We are well on the way to achieving that – 456 women have been elected to Parliament in history which is one more than the number of men sitting in the Commons at present. It’s another milestone that has been reached.
“I hope, in my lifetime, we will see an equal number of men and women sitting in the Commons. I also hope, in time, we won’t need all-women shortlists but they have helped ensure that 40 per cent of Labour MPs are now women.”
Just the second female politician from any party to represent Leeds at Westminster, Ms Reeves became piqued by the lack of public recognition for prominent women while writing the biography of Alice Bacon who was Yorkshire’s very first female MP and who later presided over the introduction of comprehensive education.
Following Manchester’s example where women’s rights activist Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragettes, is to be the first woman to get a statue in Manchester for more than 100 years following a public vote, Ms Reeves – and Leeds Council leader Judith Blake – are embarking upon a similar initiative on this side of the Pennines.
Prominent males with statues include Edward, the Black Prince; the scientist Joseph Priestley; footballer Billy Bremner; entertainer Ernie Wise and furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale.
They have stressed that the whole project will be privately funded. “The only statues of women in the city are Queen Victoria, Henry Moore’s reclining women and some nymphs in City Square,” she added. “I think we can do better than that.
“For me, it became glaring when I was researching Alice Bacon, the first female MP for Leeds. Despite the fact she made a major contribution to politics, there’s no statue or blue plaque. It’s the same for so many fantastic women. Whether it’s one of our suffragists, writers, athletes, philanthropists, scientists or business women we have so many brilliant women to choose from.
“I think there is a tendency to write women out of history in favour of some of our ‘founding fathers’. It doesn’t have to be like that and I would expect most of your readers would be able to name a woman from Leeds who they think deserves to be honoured.”
SUGGESTED STATUES of women in Leeds include:
* Alice Bacon – Leeds and Yorkshire’s first female MP.
* Gertrude Maretta Paul – First black headteacher in Leeds, founder of the West Indian Carnival and a Commissioner for Racial Equality.
* Leonara Cohen – Leeds-based suffragette who made headlines in 1913 for throwing an iron bar through a glass showcase at the Tower of London.
* Lady Betty Hastings – Philanthropist and education campaigner.
* Edith Mary Tancred – Campaigned for recruitment of women police officers.
* Beryl Burton – Cyclist who won multiple world championships on the track and road.
* Nadine Senior – Dance educator and founder of Phoenix Dance and Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
* Sue Ryder – Served in Special Operations Executive before launching cancer charity.
Who is your nominee? Email the editor at email@example.com.