Female politicians from around world mark century of UK women’s suffrage

More than 100 female parliamentarians from around the world are to sit in House of Commons

A young Bosnian MP who denounced her uncle’s war crimes, a member of the Syrian opposition and a Gambian women’s rights campaigner are among the female parliamentarians who will sit in the House of Commons chamber this week.

A landmark event on Thursday will celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK, involving more than 100 female politicians from around the world, from Afghanistan to the Vatican.

Among those will be a young Bosnia and Herzegovina MP, Lana Prlić, who came to national prominence for supporting her uncle’s sentence for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims.

Prlić, who was elected last month and serves as vice-president of the country’s Social Democratic party, has campaigned against nationalism and ethnic segregation, which she experienced growing up in Mostar.

After her uncle Jadranko Prlić’s indictment, she issued a press statement calling for the court’s decision to be respected and upheld, prompting anger from some nationalists. Prlić said the conference was a chance for her as a new female MP to share examples of good practice.

“I was raised by a single mom, and through my life I saw [from] that example how women can be strong, doing at the same time visible and invisible jobs for the society, for the community, for family,” Prlić said. “When one woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women, and we as MPs must stand for all women, for all of us.”

Another attendee is Ya Kumba Jaiteh, a leader of the Gambia’s female lawyers’ association, who also chairs the country’s trade committee. Jaiteh will bring her infant daughter to the conference, the Department for International Development said.

The Gambian MP said she was pushing for 50% female representation in both parliament and the cabinet.

“Men will never empower women willingly but ‘unpower them’ in the name of tradition and religion,” she said. “The conference will provide me the opportunity to learn from MPs from countries with high representation of women in parliament, [about] how this was achieved.”

Others slated to attend include the first female speaker of the Bangladeshi parliament, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, and Bassma Kodmani, a prominent member of the Syrian opposition.

The international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, who will make a speech to open the event on Thursday, said the women gathering from around the world had the same ambition: “to make women’s empowerment a global priority”.

She said many of the women who would attend the event had made history in their countries by increasing female representation.

“Now it’s up to us to advocate for vulnerable women around the world and give them a voice to fight for their rights and overcome violence, discrimination and repression,” she said. “Unless every woman can thrive and reach her full potential our nations and humanity will not reach its.”

It will be co-hosted by Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman, who as the longest-serving female MP is “mother of the house”.

Ministers attending include Mordaunt; the leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom; the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott; and the shadow equalities minister, Dawn Butler.

Working groups will look at different issues facing women parliamentarians around the world, including bullying, harassment and empowering women once they become MPs. Downing Street has not yet confirmed whether the prime minister will attend.

Later, the women will have an afternoon policy session looking at women’s economic empowerment, ending violence against women and girls, family planning and breaking the barriers to girls’ education.

The event was almost scuppered after the Conservative MP Christopher Chope shouted “object” when the motion to host the gathering was put to the Commons this year, but it was later passed after an intervention by Mordaunt.

Chope had previously been the subject of a separate row after he objected to another private member’s bill to make “upskirting” a specific criminal offence.


Jessica Elgot Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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