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Diane Abbott And The Tiresome Life Of Women Of Colour In Politics

History has not favoured women in the political world.

20/06/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 20/06/2017 03:59 SAST
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all the women.

in me.

are tired.

- Nayyirah Waheed, Salt

A career in politics is a difficult one. You're constantly being scrutinised, everything you say and do is watched with particular scepticism and you can rarely make a mistake unnoticed. However, it's still a field in which straight, white men are able to thrive in comfortably. But women of colour? Not so much. History has not favoured women in the political world, add ethnicity into the equation and you've got a classic case of misogynoir.

Diane Abbott has been a member of the British Parliament since 1987. She was the first ever black woman MP and she's loyally served her constituents for over thirty years. Today, there are only three other black female MPs sitting in the House of Commons. In October 2016, the Labour MP became Shadow Home Secretary and has since been berated and undermined like never before. Of course, this is nothing new for Ms. Abbott. In February this year, she wrote an op-ed for The Guardian in which she described the racial and sexual abuse she's been subjected to since her election into Parliament.

She was not deterred as she "went into politics to create space for women and other groups who have historically been treated unfairly." But, just two days before the British public took to the polls, Ms. Abbott announced that she was no longer able to continue on as Shadow Home Secretary due to illness. Firstly, I am not saying that Ms. Abbott is not really ill or took a step back because she could no longer deal with the media attention. But, I can think of what has led to this. I mean, there's only so much one woman can take right? She's pioneered and paved the way for other ethnic minority leaders in the UK but the recent spate of attacks and hurdles she's had to jump over were just too much.

In an interview with radio station, LBC in May, Ms. Abbott wrongly calculated police-funding figures. She did correct herself, eventually, but by then it was too late. She had done enough to solidify the preconceived idea that she was a "frogman wading into a vat of cow manure" as one Daily Mail journalist suggested. I'm not saying Ms. Abbott is the perfect politician and that she should go without criticism. I agree her gaffe with the policing numbers was one to be called out for, she has stumbled through some interviews and has made some choice statements in her past. But, I can't help but ask myself - if it were Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, would he be treated the same?

all the women. in me. are tired.

The role of "black female politician" is a tiring one. Fighting for the rights of your electorate, while making sure to stand firm in the face of prejudice and condescension is not for everyone. Just ask former U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, whose credibility was constantly scrutinised by the Republicans and right-wing media alike. Earlier this year, Rice was accused of misusing intelligence information for political purposes by the Trump administration. An accusation that carries no weight behind it.

It's not just female politicians who are treated unfairly. Political journalists and commentators of colour are also fair game. This was clearly highlighted in March when Washington Post journalist April Ryan was rudely told to "stop shaking her head" by the U.S. President's Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Not even former first lady, Michelle Obama was untouchable. In early 2016 she was called an "ape in heels" by a West Virginia official in a Facebook post and she's talked openly about the racist and sexist abuse she experienced when on the campaign trail.

If we look right here in South Africa, we cannot deny the barrage of attacks our female politicians face. Let's go back to 2013 when then DA Deputy House Speaker was brought into disrepute, not for making a false accusation or a numbers gaffe - but instead for the way she looked. ANC MPs Buti Manamela and John Jeffery made comments about Lindiwe Mazibuko's weight and her choice of clothing. Mazibuko has since left politics and I can only imagine why.

Tumbrl

According to data presented in the UN Women in Politics 2017 Map, the number of women in executive government and in parliament worldwide "has stagnated, with only marginal improvements since 2015". UN Women Executive Directer Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: These data powerfully tell the story of the persistent missing voice of women... the overall stagnation and specific reversals are warning bells of erosion of equality that we must heed and act on rapidly." One cannot deny that this slump could be caused by the constant upheaval women of colour face in politics. I can't imagine why anyone would want to enter a field where they are not welcomed.

all the women. in me. are tired.

While Diane Abbott may have been subjected to constant criticism and painted as an idiot, she proved herself once more in last Thursday's election. Not only did she keep her seat, but she increased her majority in Hackney North and Stoke Newington by 35,000. Does this scream incompetence or uncertainty from voters? I don't think so. However, even though Ms. Abbott came out on top, we cannot forget the way she's been treated. We cannot forget the monkey taunts or the sexist comments. We must accept that even if Diane knew all her figures, chose to wear a better wig, sat up a little straighter, was less proudly Jamaican. Even then, she would not be seen as equal. We must accept that we must work harder, we must fight harder. And. That. Is. Tiring.