From having panic alarms installed to encountering vitriolic abuse on social media on a daily basis, it is no secret female MPs see their political careers plagued by harassment both online and in person.
Nadia Whittome, the youngest MP in Westminster, may have only been a parliamentarian for just over a year but she already has firsthand experience of how this abuse plays out.
The 24-year-old, who is the Labour MP for Nottingham East, tells The Independent of how she has been forced to go to the police over death threats and is regularly subjected to hate mail and racist abuse on social media.
She says she no longer looks at her own social media comments and her staff have to spend their time trawling through hate mail and racist abuse.
“I’ve had death threats,” Ms Whittome says. “I don’t look at my social media comments. It is a bit irritating so much time from my staff team has to go into archiving hate mail and abuse.”
She adds: “It is probably in a sense not so bad for me as I don’t look at it. But my staff do and they are already doing a very difficult job. My team and I serve a constituency that has been hit very hard since 2010 with high levels of deprivation. Some of the cases we deal with are harrowing, so they don’t need to see racist abuse in their inbox as well. With death threats, we go to the police.”
Research has found black and minority ethnic female MPs are subjected to far more abuse online than their white peers – with a previous study by Amnesty International discovering black female MPs and journalists were 84 per cent more likely to be mentioned in abusive tweets than white women.
Ms Whittome’s Labour colleagues have also suffered abuse. While Diane Abbott has endured daily rape and death threats, Dawn Butler was forced to shut her constituency office after racist threats against her intensified.
Racist harassment of women MPs escalated further last summer – with The Independent reporting on the deluge of abuse and death threats black women MPs suffered after voicing support for Black Lives Matter protests.
Ms Whittome, who is of Punjabi descent and the first ethnic minority MP to be elected in Nottingham, also hit out at the divisive politics employed by the Conservative Party as she warned the women and equalities minister Liz Truss was seeking to pit people against each other.
Ms Truss, who also serves as the international trade secretary, recently announced the government would be moving the UK’s equalities agenda away from so-called fashionable issues of race and gender. The Conservative minister criticised “the left”, “identity politics”, “virtue signalling” and “the idea of lived experience” in a speech in December.
“It just makes me so angry,” Ms Whittome says of the speech. “I think how dare she – when she is part of a government which has inflicted such pain and misery and poverty on our communities. How dare she try to pit us against each other.
“For Liz Truss, issues of racism, trans rights, homophobia and misogyny might feel like a sideshow but for people I represent and for people all over the country, when the police stops and searches you regularly for no reason other than you’ve been profiled. Or when you can’t get a job despite doing everything you could to get the qualifications you needed.
“Or when you are regularly abused in the street. Or you’re a young LGBTQ person and you have been kicked out of your home and your homeless and there is nowhere for you to go because support services have been cut. That is not a fashionable issue. That is your real life.”
Ms Whittome called for the Labour Party to tackle the “so-called culture war head-on” and argue that it is not “your migrant neighbour or colleague” who is responsible for the UK’s fall in living standards, but it is instead “landlords” and “bosses” and a government which “enables” them.
“Whether you are a retired miner from Mansfield or a young Deliveroo rider in Nottingham or a Bulgarian mum cleaning the houses of parliament, we have more in common with each other than we ever will have with those people who are trying to divide us,” she adds.
The politician, who previously worked as a hate crime worker and a carer, went on to argue the Covid crisis has disproportionately affected women as they are more likely to work in sectors which have seen major job losses. They are also more likely to carry out frontline roles in care work, the NHS, supermarkets and education, where they are at risk of contracting coronavirus due to having face-to-face contact with the public, she says.
A spokesperson for the Equalities Office said it is examining how the government can “open up opportunities” to all in a bid to address “unfairness” within society.
“To everyone, no matter their class, ethnicity or background, this is not a case of choosing one group over another,” the representative added. “We want equality for everyone, everywhere.
“It is important that we also consider and remove the barriers some face due to geography, community and socioeconomic backgrounds alongside our existing commitments. This new approach will broaden the drive for equality and empower individuals in this country.”
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