Women make up more than half of the UK population—but less than a third of its MPs. After June 8, it'll likely be the same. What can we do to improve things?by Sam Smethers / May 31, 2017 / Leave a comment
There just aren’t enough women. In the world. In our society. Anywhere apparently. Over half the population just isn’t enough.
That’s historically been the reason given for the political parties failing to put more women forward for election. There is a truth in this, in that many women won’t consider themselves for political office unless someone proactively asks them to stand.
Persistence may be required, too, because women may take several attempts to be persuaded. 50:50 Parliament’s #Askhertostand campaign is spot on in that respect.
Why do women need to be talked into it?
Politics is still perceived to be a man’s world. Sad but true. Just look at Prime Minister’s Questions—or, if you have ever been to parliament itself, think about it: it just reeks of gentleman’s club, doesn’t it?
Women are often repelled by the thing they are being urged to join and, by joining, change it. But the institution of Westminster, we know, is very resistant to change.
It’s not family-friendly. The life of an MP involves long hours, working away from home in most cases. Women, particularly those with young children, are deterred by the inability to combine being an MP with their unpaid caring work.
This is why mothers, in particular, are under-represented in parliament. Some 45 per cent of women MPs do not have children compared to only 28 per cent of male members.
Recommendations such as permitting MPs to take young babies with them through the lobbies or even sit with them on the benches have been resisted. Yet in Australia, a woman MP recently breastfed her baby on the parliamentary benches. And democracy, apparently, survived. No, honest. It did.
The Fawcett Society has been running a project on women in local government and we have found that 38 per cent of women councillors have experienced sexist comments within their party, and 33 per cent from other councillors. 10 per cent have experienced sexual harassment. There is every reason to believe that this experience holds true for women MPs as well.
A turning tide
The selection processes by which candidates are chosen, too, can be sexist. On a positive note, there are signs that this may be changing (well, improving a bit; let’s…