Impossible Choices for Women Politicians as British MP Delays Caesarean to Cast Brexit Vote
British Member of Parliament Tulip Siddiq has just revealed she will delay a Caesaran operation by two days in order to take part in the Brexit vote taking place in Westminster tomorrow.
She does not mince words: “This is a high risk pregnancy and I am doing this against doctor’s advice.” The Evening Standard reports Ms. Siddiq had a difficult first pregnancy and spent the weekend in hospital under observation after taking steroid injections to help develop the baby’s lungs.
Nonetheless Ms. Siddiq considers “a world with a better chance of a strong relationship between Britain and Europe” one worth fighting for.
Why has this happened?
British Members of Parliament (MPs) have to vote in person at the House of Commons in Westminster, London. An alternative is called ‘pairing’, which is an arrangement between two opposing MPs where both agree not to participate in the vote (since their votes would cancel each other out anyway). However, Ms. Siddiq said she could not trust the pairing system after after Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis broke a pairing arrangement with Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Jo Swinson in July 2018.
What about proxy voting?
Proxy voting is where someone casts a vote on behalf of someone else. British voters can vote by proxy in General elections if, for example, they will be away or at work and cannot vote. However, as things currently stand, British MPs cannot vote by proxy in Westminster. They must be present in the House of Commons where they will orally cast their vote and, if the result is not clear-cut, they must physically go to the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ designated area of the House where their vote will be recorded.
Proxy voting for political representatives is permitted in New Zealand, though proxy votes may not exceed 25 per cent of the party’s total membership in the House. Some committees of the United States Senate permit proxy voting, but in order to cast a vote on a legislative bill members need to be physically present.
What is being done?
In September 2018 the House of Commons held a debate on proxy voting. The subsequent December 2018 report released by the House of Commons stated that the Procedure Committee (which recommends changes to procedure in Parliament) recommended that “proxy voting ought to be available to new mothers, new fathers, and adoptive parents.” Under the Commons’ recommendations, a biological mother would have a 6-month post-birth period during which she could vote by proxy. The primary adopter of a child would also get a 6-month proxy voting period. Biological fathers, partners of the biological mother, or secondary adopters would get a 2-week period.
So far, nothing seems to have happened on the issue. The House of Commons library page states that: “The Government has said a debate on a substantive motion will take place.”
An Impossible Choice
Tulip Siddiq’s forced delay of her caesarean, which was essentially required in order for her to carry out the duties she has been democratically mandated to fulfill, is absolutely shocking. It is a risky move and may endanger her health and the health of her and her partner’s baby. She is being asked, by a democratic institution, to make a choice between a higher chance of a healthy family and participating in the democracy she has been elected to serve. This should not be a decision women or men have to make in the 21st century, or, for that matter, ever.
Tulip Siddiq is right in calling on UK Parliament to instigate proxy voting. This would mean she could give birth on the day preferred by her doctors without compromising on her democratic duties. But the fact that her lobbying stems from a scenario that should be more likely to arise in a nightmare than in British Parliament is shameful.
If you would like to read more about the challenges women politicians face, I wholeheartedly recommend reading former New Zealand MP Holly Walker’s illuminating memoir The Whole Intimate Mess. A young debater and former Rhodes scholar, Holly entered Parliament eager to change things, but was soon stymied by the stress and anxiety of caring for her newborn daughter and her partner Dave who suffered a form of muscular dystrophy. She withdrew from the Green party in 2014.