Election 2010: Women in government
Article in images

A politician's work/life balance


Tessa Jowell © Jonathan Hordle/Rex Features
The idea that women might need help and support managing home affairs with parliamentary careers may seem to reinforce the age-old stereotype that women can’t have demanding jobs and successfully bring up children. But, don’t male MP’s with families have help?

How many male members of parliament return home after a long day of politics and are expected to get a meal on, vacuum the living room and put the kids to bed?

The reality is that being a politician is more than a nine to five position, and by all accounts it is all-consuming, with little or no time for interests outside of the job – working in this world without home support would challenge anyone, male or female.

Melissa Benn, writing in the Guardian, said, "the single biggest obstacle remaining to women in politics is work-life balance. Tessa Jowell, a rare survivor, once revealed how she dealt with her workload by more or less going without sleep, one night a week ... [Women] rarely have the kind of supportive spouse who keeps the home fires burning, deals with all the administrative/secretarial work and keeps the DVD home viewing this side of respectable. At the same time, they are doing a difficult job, often requiring unpopular decisions, opening themselves up to the kind of criticism that so very quickly merges into misogynistic contempt."

With Jacqui Smith, former Home Secretary, ousted from her Parliamentary seat possibly due to her involvement in the expenses scandal – when it was discovered she’d inadvertently claimed for her husband’s porn movies – women in high profile positions in parliament are rarer still. Though Smith was found wanting as an MP by her constituency, one can’t help but feel she was somewhat let down by a husband who should have been supporting her not only as a spouse but also as he was employed as her Parliamentary assistant.

Still, the re-election of a number of prominent MPs is a positive step towards increasing the representation of women in politics. But twenty years after Margaret Thatcher left office - the only woman to hold both the post of Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader – there’s still no sign of the next female prime minister and still a long way to go before true political equality has been achieved.

It’s not just about figures, percents and seats. Our attitudes towards our female MP’s need significant change too.


Women in Focus Editor
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