October is Black History Month, but also the month for overlooked women such as Ada Lovelace mother of computing. Lovelace worked with Babbage on developing the first computing machine.
Last year in Oxford, Bodlian Library there was a small exhibition. The after dinner speech was given by “Steve” Dame Stephanie Shirley, the only woman whose painting hangs on the hallowed walls of Balliol College Oxford. Dame Stephanie, as a philanthropist and role model, has made massive contributions to life in Britain, not just through her initial software company providing jobs for women, but most importantly the current work she does as Patron of Autistica and raising awareness about Autism.
A refugee herself, from Nazi Germany, she has more than repaid back the country that took her in.
“I look at it purely in an humanitarian way. 10,000 unaccompanied children were welcomed in this country in 1938/39. We are now talking about 3,000 unaccompanied children in a much wealthier Britain. I can’t understand how people can turn away from the humanitarian issue, of children, unaccompanied, milling around in Europe trying to find a safe place and I do relate to that,” said Dame Stephanie Shirley.
Might it be possible that our next Stephanie Shirley could be one of the women rescued on board the Divinity1 this month?
Furthermore, the captain of the Medicine San Frontiers rescue boat is a woman.
Strange how history repeats itself. The current focus on better rights and equality for women, the right to equal pay, and the right to supportive childcare, was a cause championed by Eleanor Rathbone MP. 70 years ago, Universal Family Allowance was paid – now known as Child Benefit.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
We think that only now we’ve become aware and concerned about FGM (Female Genital Mutation), yet Eleanor Rathbone British Independent MP, in one of her first speeches spoke about clitoridectomy in Kenya.
At the outbreak of the World War I, Rathbone organised the Town Hall Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Organisation to support wives and dependents of soldiers. The current MP, Fiona Mactaggart says: “Women by their very presence have an effect. When we got women on the Defense Select Committee, after men only, it was all about how big the weapons are; now we talk about women and the families of service personnel.”
From 1918 onwards, Rathbone argued for a system of family allowance paid directly to mothers, which she regarded as a women’s issue. This was passed by parliament in 1945. She pressured the parliament to aid the Czechoslovaks and grant entry for dissident Germans, Austrians and Jews. In late 1938 she set up the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees to take up individual cases from Spain, Czechoslovakia and Germany.
Now there is a focus on basic income: “Unwaged carers alone save the state £132bn a year – the cost of a second NHS in England. If we can consider paying people who are not working, surely we can pay mothers and other carers, women and men, a living wage for the work they do,” said Selma James in an article for the Guardian.
Recently it was felt necessary to create a political party to look at Women’s Equality. Also under the last PM The Women and Equalities Select Committee found that 54,000 women were allegedly discriminated against.
The global disaster in the Mediterranean, affects all of us, whether we pay attention or not. Surely this is a repeat of the diaspora, which brought so many Jewish refugees to Britain.
At one time Britain had a reputation for accepting Jewish refugees. Currently it is not possible to find out how many refugees have been accepted. But there are large numbers of unaccompanied children in Calais, by one account 387, who have family connections in the UK. With the destruction of the Jungle they are likely to be trafficked as slaves or into the sex trade, at the very moment when we begin to look into slavery in the UK. Surely better to rescue people before they become slaves.
CityEye has for sometime demanded that we have more women, represented in Parliament, in judiciary, legislature, on boards, and greater visibility. Suddenly women leaders are appearing. But that does not mean they necessarily have women’s interests or rights at heart.
Five years ago Kofi Annan appointed Michelle Bachelet, the UN representative for Women’s Rights. On her visit to UN Women UK, money was promised. The then Minister for women, who introduced Michelle Bachelet said: “There were few better investments than investing in women. Women would be at the center of the coalition’s development efforts.” She was the Minster for Women and Equality, but also Home secretary that perhaps took up all her time. Minister for Women and Equality seems always tagged on at the end to a very busy Minister’s portfolio. Currently Education is the main focus for Justine Greening.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more it changes the more it stays the same).
Eleanor Rathbone is being celebrated this year, 70 years after her death. A recognition of her attainments as an independent MP is called for. Perhaps we need more independents, or perhaps we just need more women.