Cherie Blair, Former First Lady of the UK on Covid-19, Life After Politics and The True Value Of Gender Equality

Cherie Blair, then Booth, unceremoniously married her boyfriend in the summer 1979 while cleaning the bathroom floor at their vacation home in Chianti. It’s impossible to know what she would be most famous for today if she had. It’s almost certain that it wouldn’t have been her husband.

If it could be called that, the proposal was unusual for a woman whose entire life had been nothing but routine up to that point.

She was the daughter of actor parents, and was raised in Liverpool’s underprivileged area. Her academic ambition earned her an honors law degree from London School of Economics. This was at a time when this level and that field of academia were still heavily male-dominated.

She was a qualified barrister in 1976, and she scored the highest exam score in her year. In 1995, she was named Queen’s Counsel. This is one of the most prestigious honors in the U.K legal profession. She became a part time judge four years later.

Blair, a lawyer who specializes in human rights, has started her own law practice, been appointed chancellor at a university, established a foundation for women entrepreneurs, and raised four children. She also stood by the Prime Minister of Britain during some of the most difficult times.

She was a pioneer in many ways of the self-actualized First lady, aware of her duties as a spouse to a stateman, and tirelessly committed to them. But she was also determined to be more than her husband’s wife.

She says that women’s economic empowerment has always been one of her great passions. She is speaking via video from Oxford, where she has been living with close relatives since before the Covid-19 lockdown. Yes, I was in the front row of history for ten year while Tony was at Downing Street. But in many ways, it’s liberating. It’s empowering.”

Talking For Herself

It is quite obvious what Blair means.

She describes, in Speaking for Myself (2008), her struggles with conforming to the public’s expectations of how a First Lady should behave, look, and think.

Tony Blair was the first Prime Minister of Britain in May 1997. She was also one of the most divisive spouses that the country has ever seen. Some decried her for being too opinionated and confident, while others accused her of cashing in on her husband.

Broadsheets ate her links with a conman from Australia. It seems that even Margaret Thatcher had not prepared the British public for a woman who was politically involved. She ran as a candidate in the U.K.’s 1983 General Election. She was highly academic, ambitious, and a self-proclaimed feminist.

As Polly Toynbee, Guardian ‘s , observed in 2005, though in a column criticalizing Blair for pocketing large amounts of money for a speech that she gave as a QC: “She has endured relentless ridicule, harassment and mocking by a Tory media printing the ugliest photos and mocking her friends, legal career and religion to make her into a ditzy Lady Macbeth.”

Power Of ‘Sisterpreneurship’

Blair persevered, however, and it is well-known for this. It’s evident that she has overcome every obstacle, from being abused by journalists to her emotional abuse to an abusive, manic, celebrity father to having an alcoholic and womanizing mother , to be kinder to the world.

This is evident in her work with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. It was established in 2008 and aims to help female entrepreneurs reach their full potential by offering mentorship programs, financial advice and technology access. It promotes what Blair calls “Sisterpreneurship”, and has collaborated with many major corporations such as Bank of America, PayPal and the United States Agency for International Development.

The foundation has helped over 160,000 women entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries to date. This helps communities prosper, families thrive, and economic growth. It has pledged to support 100,000 more women entrepreneurs in the future.

Blair talks with almost parental pride about Ilgin Ozdemir Yazgan (a Turkish entrepreneur who graduated from the foundation’s mentorship program and launched a maternity- and nursing wear brand). Yazgan was the keynote speaker at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

The foundation supports every woman and is working hard to break down gender stereotypes . But progress is slow, and Blair admits that true gender parity is something she, or her granddaughter, will not see in their lifetimes.

Blair says, “The latest gender gap report from the World Economic Forum shows that we are not on track to achieve gender parity in economic participation and opportunity for 257 more years. This is a decline over the year before.” Add to that the economic impact and the effect on work-life balance that the Covid-19 crises has had ….”, Blair says. It doesn’t look very good.

It is well-known that the coronavirus epidemic has had a significant adverse effect on women. A heterosexual female partner has been more likely to take on more responsibility for her children’s education while locked down and to neglect her professional responsibilities.

Blair states that some women may have left the workforce due to this crisis. “But we have never been more critical to understand the economic potential of gender equality .”

Last year, research by her foundation in and the Boston Consulting Group showed that women could have the same entrepreneurial opportunities than men to increase global GDP by approximately 3%-6%. This would boost the world’s economy to $2.5 trillion to $5 Trillion.

Blair states that studies like these have been out for years and years but the message isn’t getting through. “So we have to show [what the economic potential] looks.”

The Political Hopefuls?

Blair, a 65-year old grandmother, shows no signs of slowing down in her role as an international human right lawyer and her work with the foundation.

In June, she was joined Hillary Clinton – a close friend – and Dame Vivian Hunt (managing partner for the UK & Ireland at global consultancy McKinsey & Co) to address London’s Tech Week conference about the barriers women face in accessing technology. This topic is deeply rooted in her foundation’s mission.

Covid-19 was first announced by the foundation to be a partner with Cambridge Wireless, an international network of companies that develop and apply wireless technologies. King’s College London also joined the partnership to offer open-access, free online business resilience training programs to women entrepreneurs all over the globe.

She says technology is a tremendous enabler and can help to make society more democratic if used in the right way. “That’s why technology has been so integral to everything we do.”

Blair is a dedicated mother, her youngest son is finishing Oxford and she remains a loving grandmother. Both her daughter and her daughter-in-law expect to give birth in July. She exclaims, “Depending on the timing, we could have two babies in the same week.”

She’s still in touch with Laura Bush, whom she formed a close friendship with during George W. Bush’s early years. Despite their ideologies being at odds – Blair is an opponent of capital punishment, while Bush supports the death penalty – she writes in her 2008 book about how they enjoyed each others company, ate together, watched movies together, and even met their families.

What about Blair’s political ambitions? Although she’s had some experience, she’s a seasoned professional and knows the ropes. She might also consider following Clinton’s example and becoming a head of state.

She laughs and says, “I think those are gone.” “But who knows. One day, I might be the mother or prime minister. She muses, “Or perhaps the grandmother.” “Let’s never rule out anything.”

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