At first it may seem very much a First World problem: Labour’s Stella Creasy has written a Guardian article apparently complaining that Parliamentary rules make it almost impossible for women to be both MPs and mothers.
Ms Creasy has a stake in this matter; she is expecting a baby and is currently having to deal with a deplorable lack of support from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
I was ready to be extremely unsympathetic. Think of all the women who have suffered unfair discrimination – for many reasons, not least because of pregnancy, especially since the Conservatives took office in 2010.
If you are a woman who has suffered such prejudice, please feel free to tell us all about it in the comment column.
But it seems Ms Creasy was prompted to put finger to keyboard by more than just her own situation.
She writes: “If we can’t get this right for MPs, how can we get this right for parents elsewhere?
“Britain still has a long way to go to ensure that fertility isn’t a barrier to equality. A third of employers think it’s acceptable to ask women about their plans for having a family at a job interview. Non-disclosure agreements are used frequently to cover up pregnancy discrimination, with the legal advice service Pregnant Then Screwed receiving on average 350 calls a year.”
And in fairness to her, Ms Creasy has also used her position to try to ensure that people who aren’t in work, or who do not earn very much, still have access to a reasonable standard of living – and I think we can include the means to bear children as part of that.
Her voting record shows that she has supported equality and human rights; voted to increase state benefits at least in line with inflation; opposed laws to cut housing benefit; and supported increased benefits over longer periods for people with illnesses and disabilities.
All these actions suggest that Ms Creasy believes people should have more life choices, including the choice of whether – and when – to have a child. She walks the walk, besides talking the talk, it seems.
My own opinion is clear: Your body – your choice. The only person with a right to dictate when – or whether – a woman has a child is the woman herself.
It’s nothing to do with employers. In fact, pregnancy discrimination is a hypocritical nonsense in a country where successive neoliberal governments have tried to make a virtual of workforce “flexibility” – meaning people don’t stay in the same job for long anyway.
It’s certainly nothing to do with lawmakers. The idea of legislating against a biological imperative is bizarre.
And, coming back to the reason Ms Creasy wrote her article, it’s certainly not a matter for the Parliamentary organisation concerned with standards.
Fair enough – MPs’ private lives should not interfere with their work representing their constituents.
But there are many ways that they can keep on top of the matters of the day – and have their say on them – while discharging their responsibilities as mothers.
The question for IPSA, as for employers across the country, is not how to prevent women from taking maternity leave; it is how to support them when they do – or, more damning, why they do not.
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