Like many people, I wasn’t really aware of Jo Cox until yesterday’s tragic event.
Leaving aside all theories relating to the motivation behind this heinously violent attack, I’d like to play tribute to her. Jo’s life’s work was magnificent. Much has been made of her humanitarian work for Oxfam, but she also lobbied for refugees and an end to violence against women and girls, as well as global maternal rights. In an interview with Devex in 2011, she articulated what was on her wishlist: “ …To see a truly seismic shift in the life chances of mums-to-be and their babies, governments — rich and poor — must tackle inequality, especially gender but also income.”
Jo came from an ordinary background in Yorkshire – but she was the first from her family to go to Cambridge. But here she admitted to feeling totally out of place. While her peers spent summers backpacking or visiting exotic places, Jo returned home to spend the summer working in the toothpaste factory her father worked in. This was more normal to her than travelling the world.
But travel the world she did. Through her work with Oxfam, she saw the full horror of what human beings are capable of. Her own words on this experience speak volumes and put into context her passionate campaign work for Syria. She said: “I’ve been in some horrific situations where women have been raped repeatedly in Darfur, I’ve been with child soldiers who have been given Kalashnikovs and kill members of their own family in Uganda. In Afghanistan I was talking to Afghan elders who were world-weary of a lack of sustained attention from their own Government and from the international community to stop problems early. That’s the thing that all of that experience gave me - if you ignore a problem it gets worse.”
Her desire to enter Parliament was motivated not only by her eyes being opened in Oxford to society’s inequalities, but also the desire to help make the world a fairer and safer place. Jo believed in a society where race, creed and sex are not used as a political football. When filmed meeting constituents in her hometown, it is telling that the ethnic mix was diverse. In Jo’s own words in her maiden speech: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
It is hard to believe she was only in Parliament for a year, but for Chancellor George Osborne to pay tribute to her by hinting she was behind their decision to undergo a U-turn over child refugees pays testimony to the quiet eloquence of her words having the power to change policy and minds.
Jo leaves behind a legacy we should all emulate. To be fair and decent, help others (including refugees) and fight for justice. Like many parents, I hugged my children just a little bit tighter last night, knowing that Jo's two small children (aged 3 and 5) had been deprived of her maternal love following yesterday's brutal and senseless killing. But I’m also mindful of the many children worldwide – especially those whose lives have been shattered by war and destruction - whose lives she has changed for the better.
We need more people with Jo’s passion in Parliament. It would be the perfect testimony to her if her richness in integrity inspires many other young women and men to enter Parliament to campaign for the ethics and values she embodied so well.
Jo Cox 1974-2016
By Penny Hosie, Editor, Journal of Family Health