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Women who inspire: The black female MPs breaking barriers

PICTURED: Kate Osamor at a shadow cabinet meeting in the Houses of Parliament

LAST YEAR’S general election results have been lauded as the most diverse yet, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done to improve the representation of black women in Parliament.

We highlight nine female MPs whose achievements –some historic in their nature – can inspire a new generation of black women to take up the challenge and make a difference in politics.

Kemi Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch the member of Parliament for the Saffron Walden constituency, having been elected last June. She is also the vice chair of candidates for the Conservative Party and a member of the Justice Select Committee.

What has been your greatest achievement since entering politics?


I only just got elected a few months ago. I am pleased to have been able to help so many of my constituents with many issues – sometimes life or death. My best known achievement, however, was my maiden speech, which was
a personal story about why I moved to the UK and how great our country is.

What advice would you give to young women who aspire to follow in your footsteps?


To put themselves out there and not be shy. And to develop a thick skin!

Dawn Butler

Dawn Butler was elected as the member of Parliament for Brent South in 2005. Her appointment made her the first elected African-Caribbean woman to become a government minister in the UK. In 2015, she was elected as the MP for Brent Central, and was appointed the shadow secretary of state responsible for Women and Equalities in August 2017.

How can the representation of women in Parliament be increased?

We must tackle the unacceptable levels of abuse and intimidation that some women in Parliament face, which often puts people off. We can also take steps to en- sure a more family-friendly working environ- ment by helping MPs balance parliamentary and family priorities fairly, including making the workplace more child-friendly and to make Parliament working hours more sociable.

What advice would you give to young women who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

If you feel passionately about an issue, then get involved, and find people who share your vision and values.

Helen Grant

Helen Grant was elected as member of Parliament for the constituency of Maidstone and The Weald in the 2010 general election. She is the first Anglo-African female Conservative MP and minister. Helen is also a trustee of the social mobility foundation and she travels extensively focusing on issues concerning equality, inclusivity, social cohesion, racism and discrimination.

In October 2017, she was appointed chair of the Government’s apprenticeships diversity champions network.
In January, Helen was appointed a vice chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for communities.

How did you overcome the challenges in your career journey?

I’m always prepared and never leave anything to chance. It makes for a lot of work, but being prepared means you walk into a situation with confidence and be ready to deal with anything.

What advice would you give to young women who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Set your goals, make a plan to achieve them, and don’t listen to doubters.

Fiona Onasanya

Fiona Onasanya is the Labour MP for Peterborough, and was elected into her post last June. In addition to being fully engaged in the political arena, Onasanya is an active member of her church.

Locally, in her role as Peterborough’s MP, Onasanya has lobbied for a university, looked at avenues to combat fly-tipping and methods to ensure funding for the local NHS.

What has been the highlight of your career?

It has been incredibly rewarding to help clean up our beautiful city, and I am continuing to pay for the collections to complement the work that the council are doing, as I believe the residents of Peterborough deserve to live in an area that is safe, clean and attractive

What advice would you give to young women who aspire to follow in your footsteps?


Use your voice to inspire and motivate those around you. Be firm in your convictions even when faced with opposition.

Chi Onwurah

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP representing Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy, science and innovation.

What do you think are the key barriers to women entering politics?

Parliament is still not representative of the country, there are particular challenges for women and especially women who are black, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It’s always hard to be what you cannot see.

What advice would you give to young women who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t overestimate the requirements of the job! And don’t wait for the perfect timing because that may never happen.

Kate Osamor

Kate Osamor is the Labour and Co-operative Party MP for Edmonton and the shadow secretary of state for international development. Since being elected, she has consistently used her voice as an MP to speak out for the most vulnerable in society, highlighting the impact that policies will have on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

What motivated you to enter politics?

Working with homeless people and within the NHS for 15 years, and seeing first-hand the need for change, made me realise that I needed to do more and I started getting involved with my trade union and local party.

What advice would you give to young women who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Getting involved with a union is a good way to gain experience in politics through your existing job, be yourself and never apologise for it. That might take courage and you will have it. Too many people, especially young people, feel like they can’t make a difference – but you can. And the more of you there are, the more we will be able to truly make a difference and change the system to make it work for the many.

MAKING THIER MARK

Diane Abott

In 1987, Diane Abbott became the first black woman ever elected to the British Parliament – a historic appointment. She was born in London to Jamaican parents and after graduating from Cambridge University, Diane started working for the government as a home office civil servant. She has also worked for the lobby group the National Council for Civil Liberties and as a journalist.

Diane is the founder of the London Schools and the Black Child Initiative, which aims to raise educational achievement levels among black children. Diane is currently the Labour shadow home secretary and has been the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987.

Marsha de Cordova

Marsha de Cordova has been the Labour MP for Battersea since last June. She is also the shadow minister for disabled people, having been appointed to the role in October 2017. Marsha, who is visually impaired, is a passionate disability rights campaigner. She is committed to making Parliament more accessible and improving support for disabled people.

Eleanor Smith

Eleanor Smith is the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, having been elected last summer. She won Enoch Powell’s old seat and is the West Midlands’ first black MP.

Eleanor is a former president of Unison, one of the UK’s largest trade unions, with 1.3 million members, and has been a theatre nurse for more than 40 years. Eleanor is a firm supporter of the National Health Service and spoke passionately about NHS issues in the recent debate held in Parliament over the NHS winter crisis this January.

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