Friday, 17 June 2016

Not so great Britain

Like a lot of people I woke up this morning feeling that our country, the UK, was a little less good. A bleaker, more unjust and dangerous place.

Last week there were 192 female Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Now there are 191. Only 29% of MPs are female, and now we've lost one - a hardworking one who spent her life campaigning for humanitarian causes.

There are lots of reasons why women are so under-represented in Westminster. And it can't be an easy journey for those women who do go down this route and become MPs. The struggles of having a family and meeting the demands of the job are one, and Jo Cox rose to this challenge.

By Garry Knight ("Jo Cox Memorial - 02" on Flickr) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

What happens to women who stand up for us 

I'd never heard of Jo Cox until her attack was reported in the news, although it turns out that someone I know is friends with her mother-in-law. And maybe it's trite, but as I cooked my little girl tea last night I though of the two little kids, waiting for their mum to come home and cook their tea, and imagined how that family will cope with the loss of their mother, sister, daughter, wife.

Cox campaigned against slavery, called for the lifting of the blockade of the Gaza strip and supported Syrian refugees, and worked with disadvantaged groups in Darfur and Afghanistan. She stood up for women, working on a campaign to prevent deaths in pregnancy and childbirth, and chairing the Labour Women's Network. Her death means there's one less person to stand up for all these groups.

It still would have been tragic, of course, if  Jo Cox had been Joe Cox (a man), if she didn't have two small children waiting for her at home, if she hadn't been quite so photogenic, hadn't spend years dedicating herself to fighting for humanitarian causes. The act of slaughter was horrific in itself. The other things just add to our feelings of sadness and outrage.

The effects of Jo Cox's death

The answers about exactly why and how this happened haven't come out yet. Even when they do, I doubt they will ever make much sense. The suggestions are that it was a planned attack from with an extreme right wing agenda, that Cox was killed because she believed in equality and freedom.

One of the effects could be that our MPs feel less safe around us, their constituents, get a bit more security, become a bit less easy for us to access. I hope not.

Whatever the intentions of the attack, it seems pretty likely that it will have the opposite effect to that which was intended. Cox campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU. If anything, her death and the outpouring of sadness and sympathy it has generated will bring about more votes to her side of the campaign, not less.

What can we do?

When we hear shocking news, we wonder what we can do. Humanitarian disasters spark appeals that we can give our money to, easing our guilty consciences about what is not happening to us. We can't undo wrongs that have been done. We can't bring back people who shouldn't have died. But we can listen to their voices, by supporting the causes they championed, we can appreciate our own lives a little more, maybe try a little harder to make the world a better place. And for Cox, who died in the cause of democracy, we can exercise our right to vote, wherever we decide to put our cross.

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