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Emma Reynolds MP: Why we are taking baby steps towards equal rights

Opinions | Published:

Emma Reynolds explains why she is backing Labour-led proposals for a new system covering maternity leave and shared parental leave for MPs

Emma Reynolds hit the campaign trail with baby Theo last year

The New Zealand Prime Minister recently announced that she is expecting her first child in June.

She will be breaking through a glass ceiling that has only ever been breached once before by Benazir Bhutto, who gave birth while she was Prime Minister of Pakistan in the 1990s.

It was inspiring to watch Jacinda Ardern and her husband set out how they are going to juggle being parents and the demands of her office.

He will be a stay-at-home dad and she will go back to work six weeks after giving birth.

When we were expecting our baby last year, my husband and I never imagined that I would have to return to work so soon.

Baby Theo was four days old when the Prime Minister decided to call the snap election.

We were just adjusting our lives to looking after a brand new little person, and we wondered how on earth we would get through nine weeks of campaigning with a newborn.

I want to thank the vast majority of my constituents who were incredibly supportive.

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I had lovely cards and messages from lots of people and I have lost count of the number of people I spoke to during the campaign who asked how Theo was getting on.

There were only a few people who said they assumed that I wouldn't carry on. I asked them politely if they would make the same assumption if my husband were the MP. Of course they wouldn’t.

I believe that both new mums and dads should have the right to parental leave.

Fortunately, my husband’s employer allowed him to bring forward his shared parental leave, without any notice.

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New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern is expecting her first child in June

Thanks to the last Labour government such provision exists for dads – although only five per cent of them currently take up the opportunity.

Needless to say, it was a very stressful few weeks. Apart from the obvious physical exhaustion, breastfeeding and endless nappies, I was often under pressure to meet deadlines for election material – letters, leaflets and posters – and organising the next campaigning session.

I also dealt with casework as my constituents rightly expected me to continue to help them with any problems they had during the election campaign.

My family rallied round. My parents knocked as many doors, if not more, than I did! Indeed, we joked that it felt like my husband was the candidate for the first few weeks as I couldn’t really go out door-knocking very much.

About six weeks after giving birth, I started campaigning several times a day and I walked eight miles on polling day.

After the election, there wasn’t much let up. I had election returns to complete and I also organised three thank you parties to help all the kind people who helped me retain my seat.

In subsequent weeks, I went to Parliament to swear in, to vote on the Queen’s speech, Finance Bill and the European Withdrawal Bill.

During the six months I took as maternity leave, scarcely a day went by when I hadn’t considered or dealt with a constituency or parliamentary matter. Talking to other new mums, this is quite unusual.

I am supporting Harriet Harman’s proposals for a new formal system for maternity leave and shared parental leave for MPs.

We should have the option of proxy voting so that a colleague can vote on our behalf and our constituents can be represented.

Relying on the goodwill of the opposition and government whips (who let you off the whip when they can find a government MP to pair you with) is simply not enough.

I am not the only MP to be criticised by a national newspaper for missing so many votes, without mentioning my maternity leave.

The website theyworkforyou rejected my suggestion that they reflect that I was on leave next to my voting record.

Maternity and paternity rights have improved markedly over the last 20 years due to legislation that MPs have voted on in our parliament.

Yet those rights are not extended to MPs. We should set an example for others to follow, rather than dragging our feet.

I hope that young women who want to pursue a career in politics will not be put off by the long hours and travelling.

Whereas it used to be rare for MPs to give birth while in office, with more women entering parliament, it is becoming more common.

I have been inspired by many of my colleagues and I hope that Jacinda Ardern will blaze a trail that many other women will follow.

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