About a third of British lawmakers are women. But female lawmakers in Britain and in legislative bodies around the world have long faced barriers, including lack of paid maternity leave. They have also been exposed to high rates of vitriol and abuse, both online and in person. In 2019, 19 female members of Britain’s Parliament said that they had decided not to seek re-election. Some said abuse factored into that decision.
Alex Davies-Jones, a Labour lawmaker, said in an interview that she met with Mr. Hoyle, the speaker, when she joined Parliament in 2019, and that he reassured her that she could breastfeed her new baby in the chambers if needed. Debates can last six hours or more, putting new mothers who are breastfeeding in a difficult spot, she said.
“This seems like a bit of going back on the progress we did make,” she said. Parliament, she said, “should be a leading light in terms of equality and representation” — and for setting an example for what companies should do.
Mr. Hoyle said in Parliament that he had heard a range of views from lawmakers with babies. “This House has to be able to function professionally and without disturbance,” he said. “However, sometimes there may be occasions when the chair can exercise discretion assuming business is not disturbed.”
In 2018, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, became the first lawmaker to bring an infant onto the Senate floor when she arrived with her daughter Maile, then 10 days old, in tow to vote against the confirmation of a new NASA administrator.
Maile’s arrival came after several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations in the Senate, which had previously barred children from the floor. Senators voted unanimously that they could bring infants who are up to a year old into the chamber.
“But what if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?” Orrin G. Hatch, then a Republican senator from Utah, asked at the time, according to The Associated Press. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, replied, “That would be wonderful and a delight.”