Boris Johnson was asked why Priti Patel has been the only woman in the cabinet who has led the Downing Street briefing in the last eight weeks, and his answer just wasn’t enough.
Rosie Duffield is the Labour MP who stood up and shared her personal domestic abuse story in the House of Commons last year. She did it to highlight the importance of the Domestic Abuse Bill’s second hearing. Although the bill was parked shortly afterwards, due to the general election and Brexit, it is now working its way through parliament again.
Frank words like Duffield’s, perhaps, really do have the power to help create change. And the MP for Canterbury has now sparked another essential debate about the silencing of women’s voices during the pandemic, by putting a vital question directly to prime minister Boris Johnson.
Duffield, who is the chair of Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), challenged Johnson during PM Questions on Wednesday (20 May).
“Women make up the vast majority of the workforce in our NHS, social care sector and our schools,” she said. “However, there’s only a handful of women on the SAGE committee and only one woman in the cabinet has led the Downing Street briefing in the last eight weeks on very few occasions [home secretary Priti Patel].”
Duffield added: “Does the prime minister agree with me – as the chair of the largest group of female MPs in this house – that we need a change of tone and more female voices at the top of government to reflect the majority of the UK government population, over 52% of whom are women. And if not, why not?”
How did Johnsons reply to these facts presented to him?
“Actually, I think she has an extremely important point,” he said. “I’ve taken dramatic action even before a reshuffle.”
The PM continued to say the two most important appointments he made were Dido Harding, who is leading the programme of testing and tracing, and Kate Bingham, who is leading the national effort to coordinate our search for a vaccine with other countries.
Johnson’s answer might suggest that there are, at least, efforts being made to include female MPs. However, on the same day, Jess Phillips – the shadow domestic abuse minister – announced that she has been excluded from the government’s Hidden Harms online domestic abuse summit.
According to the Mirror, no explanation about this decision was given by the government. Considering the dangerously increasing number of domestic case abuses being recorded during lockdown, it’s perhaps confusing that Phillips hasn’t been brought onboard.
The MP for Birmingham Yardley questioned her exclusion from these crucial conversations, tweeting: “I don’t know why Boris Johnson and Priti Patel wouldn’t want to work together to tackle abuse and violence. I’d have thought we were on the same side on the issue. Political point scoring has no place, only outcomes matter.”
Yes, everybody is affected by coronavirus. But as Duffield points out, the majority (60%) of key workers in the UK are women. Now, more than ever, female voices need more platforms.