The creation, development and implementation of policy is something that effects everyone. However, throughout history, women have been underrepresented throughout a majority of the process. Before 1918, women weren’t allowed to take part in the democratic process which would decide who would govern the country. It was the Representation of People Act 1918 that originally gave women the suffrage they’d campaigned for and it later allowed them to run for parliamentary positions.
Great Britain’s parliament was formed in 1707 but it wasn’t until 1918 when a woman was first elected into the House of Commons as an MP. Another 50 years saw Britain welcome its first and only elected female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (Theresa May wasn’t elected in a General Election). However, despite huge gains over the past century, women are still suffering from a misrepresentation throughout politics.
In today’s government there are 192 female MPs, a 28% increase since 2010’s parliament. While this shows growth on 1979’s 19, it still means that female MPs only make up 29% of parliament.
The misrepresentation is clearly present, as women have become increasingly apathetic when it comes to turning up at the polls. A study carried out by the House of Commons library showed that 9.1 million female voters were absent from the 2010 general election compared to 8 million men (33%). In 1992, there were more female voters than men, but since then that number has seen in decline. This could be linked to a lack of representation and female voters could feel increasingly disenfranchised.
Commenting on the statistic Harriet Harman said:
“Politics is every bit as important and relevant to the lives of women as it is to men.”
The amount of missing female voters could indicate that a lack of local representation is driving women away from the polls. In the 2015 election, 26% of all candidates across the UK were female, this shows a staggering increase in the candidate pool especially since the 2010 figures were as low as 5%. While female candidates are still a minority, this increase to over a quarter of all candidates in just one term is a huge step in the right direction and could help drive female voters back to the polls.
Figures are similar when broken down to a regional level with London having the highest amount of female candidates (30%) while eastern England had the lowest (21%). After the 2015 election, the UK was positioned in 36th place in global rankings for women’s representation. This position sees the UK lagging behind many European, African and South American countries, including current leaders Rwanda.
The causes for a deficit in women’s representation throughout the political sphere has been given a plethora of causes. In Meryl Kenny’s article she explains that some have suggested that the problem is one of supply and demand and others have suggested there may be an underlying discrimination towards particular types of candidates.
There are arguments to be made that the problem doesn’t lie with women being unwilling to engage within politics, but instead the central issue lies within the political parties. Meryl Kenny suggests that the lack of candidates could stem from the parties themselves:
“Party demand shapes supply.”
Dr. Meryl Kenny,
Lecturer in Gender & Poliitics,
The University of Edinburgh
Formally there are no qualifications necessary to become an MP, however it’s no secret that parties usually look for informal qualifications such as: party service, resources and experience. With a smaller rate of engagement from women throughout politics, it could be harder for potential candidates to meet these requirements.
However, David Cameron’s resignation presented Conservative party’s Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom as potential leaders with opponents like Boris Johnson falling by the wayside. For the first time in the history of British politics, a party had to choose between two women for leadership of the party and therefore, Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, women within the 4 ‘Great Offices of State’ are still a rarity that an archetype of the right winged women in power has been created in the form of Margaret Thatcher. May herself has proven to be a powerful role model for women with a long career that saw her move from the position of Minister for Women and Equalities to the Home Secretary before becoming the fourth women to ever hold one of the Great Offices of State. While she may have made some questionable decisions, she is the longest serving Home Secretary in over 60 years and has been referred to by Kenneth Clarke as a “Bloody difficult woman.”
Under Theresa May’s government, women have seen an increase in representation throughout parliament, the cabinet currently has 8 female ministers (including May) which makes up 33% of the secretarial roles. This is the highest number of women to occupy these positions at one time, equalling the figures from Tony Blair’s 2006 cabinet reshuffle.
|Prime Minister||Number of Women in Cabinet|
Within the Conservative party, the number of female MPs has seen a 423% increase throughout Theresa May’s career. When May first entered parliament in 1997, there were just 13 female MPs while the 2015 General Election saw this figure increase to 68. However, commenting on the representation of women throughout the Conservative party, Tory peer Baroness Jenkins suggesting more can be to done to encourage women into politics:
“We are bad at headhunting women, bad at supporting them and our associates are not good at picking them.”
Theresa May has spent much of her career trying to help female candidates. In 2005, she helped set up Women2Win, which aims to increase the number of Conservative MPs in Parliament by identifying, training and mentoring political talent. Many of the women currently sat in May’s own cabinet, Amber Rudd, Justine Greening and Karen Bradley were all helped by the service in one way or another.
When it comes to increasing representation throughout Parliament, should political parties choose a female candidate over a male one? No, the party has a duty to itself and the electorate to put forward the best candidates for each constituency. While it is important to ensure that the candidacy is diverse and represents the diverse community of Britain, it is constituencies that will give parties a majority so they need to ensure that any candidates can win the seat they’re running for.
That being said there are talented female candidates across the political spectrum and with career driven role models occupying some of the most powerful positions throughout the country, there are plenty of role models to prove that women belong in politics.
Parliament isn’t the only way that women have been able to affect the policies and laws that affect the country, the policy industry is fast-paced by nature and those in the industry must be able to react to legislative changes as they happen.
In 2015, more female MPs were elected than in 2010 so it’s clear that in terms of representation things are moving the right way. However, these MPs only make up 29% of parliament. There are plenty of talented women working throughout the entire Policy sector in both the private and public sector and while gender should not be the important factor, we need people from all walks of life helping shape policy and legislation to really represent the needs of our society and economy.