IWD21: Young, female and a member of parliament, meet Dehenna Davison and Charlotte Nichols 1 month ago

IWD21: Young, female and a member of parliament, meet Dehenna Davison and Charlotte Nichols

For International Women's Day, JOE spoke to two MPs on either side of the political spectrum about their experiences in British politics

We spoke to two women MPs, one from Labour and one from the Conservative. party, to discuss the sort of abuse they face for doing their job, and their political role models.

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While their politics may differ, there are parallels in their experiences of being women in the political sphere.

Charlotte Nichols, Labour MP for Warrington and shadow women and equalities minister

Charlotte Nichols is the MP for Warrington North, and Labour's shadow minister for women and equalities.

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She was elected to parliament for the first time in 2019.

Before entering politics, Charlotte worked as a national research and policy officer for the GMB trade union - and was previously women’s officer of Young Labour. 

"Both in terms of being a woman, and a young woman, it's particularly difficult," said Nichols when speaking of her experiences in parliament.

"In meetings, people can be quite dismissive in a way they aren't to men.

"And I think just the level and severity of some of the abuse that we get as women MPs compared to what most of our male colleagues get is really quite staggering."

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When it comes to being a Jewish woman in politics, Nichols says she regularly experiences anti-Semitism.

"I find that trolls right across the political spectrum that say I'm not really Jewish, or the Rachel Dolezal situation," she said.

"I've had an email from somebody saying that they hoped I'd get raped to death by Hamas."

As a bisexual woman, Nichols also lamented the lack of representation of gay women and trans women in Parliament.

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"The fact that there aren't any out trans MPs means that we have decisions that are being taken all the time, whether its things like the gender recognition act for example, decisions taken that affect trans people without trans people being part of that conversation."

She added: "We're now at a point where we've got 'the gayest Parliament in the world'... but actually its specific parts of the LGBT community that are represented.

"Gay men are very well represented in Parliament, but we don't have any disabled LGBT MPs, or any BAME LGBT MPs."

On Silicon Valley, Nichols said tech companies need to do more to protect women online.

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"I think the online harms legislation that's going through parliament at the moment could be a really powerful tool in that - because for the time there is a recognition that tech companies are responsible for what's posted on their platforms. "

She also said that equality for women needs to be approached as a structurally.

On women that inspired her politically, Charlotte listed several people.

"Eleanor Marx, who helped established the GMB union, right through to more modern day people.

"Hazel Nolan, she is one of the senior organisers in GMB Scotland - and Rhea Wolfson ran the biggest equal pay campaign in Glasgow, the biggest strike in (potentially ever) just last year."

She also said other inspirations include some of Labour's new intake of MPs, Sarah Owen and Abena Oppong-Asare.

Dehenna Davison, Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland

Dehenna Davison

Dehenna Davison is the MP for Bishop Auckland, and was elected in 2019. 

She is the first Conservative to hold the seat since 1935, knocking down a brick in the infamous “Red Wall.” 

Davison said her journey into politics came from a tragic event - when her father was killed when she was 13 by a single blow to the head.

"From that point on I wanted to try and do things to tackle that injustice but I wasn't sure how to channel that in my career," she said.

Politics provided Davison a way of getting involved and to make positive changes in her community, and a desire to secure justice for her father.

When it comes to social media, Davison said her Twitter feed was "a barrage of abuse."

"You know going into politics, if you're sticking your head above the parapet, you expect people to direct some of their hate at you," she said.

"But for a lot of it there's this weird, underlying air of misogyny."

Davison also disclosed some how some of the abuse spilled over into real life - such as men shouting "Oi, that's that Tory lass - get your tits out!" while she was out walking, and had received rape threats.

When it comes to the responsibility of tech giants in Silicon Valley doing more to protect women online, and she said her local police force had provided support.

However, Davison said it's a careful balance between freedom of speech and welfare.

"I think that people should be free to express their opinions online, even if those opinions offend people.

"But there is definitely a line that can get crossed when it turns into abuse, threats of violence, and whatever else."

When asked about political figures she looked up to, she said she admired women from across the political spectrum.

"It would be stupid of me not to mention Margaret Thatcher, just in the sense that she was the first woman to make it to the top - at a time when traditionally that was really unusual," she said.

Other women politicians she said inspired her were Labour MP Rosie Duffield for speaking up about her own experiences of domestic abuse and Conservative MP and Home Office minister, Victoria Atkins, for her work on domestic violence legislation.

She also added Penny Mordaunt, admiring her particularly for being appointed as the first female defence secretary.