Tuesday 17 January 2017

Women in the House of Commons after the 2020 election

Last week, the Women and Equalities Select Committee produced an important report which shows that unless all political parties take action, women's representation in parliament will go backwards in 2020. Part of the reason for this is the boundary review which will disproportionately affect seats held by women. Whilst representation in recent years has improved for women, it is still some way short of where it should be. The UK already lags behind many democracies in female representation, and the thought of going backwards does not induce joy. Therefore it is beholden on political parties to do more.

From the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report :-

Women in the House of Commons after the2020 election

Fifth Report of Session 2016–17
Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 14 December 2016

Conclusions and recommendations

The role of political parties in improving women’s representation in the House of Commons

13. All political parties must accept that they have the primary responsibility for making the Commons more diverse and representative of modern Britain. Action and transparency by political parties are therefore essential in improving the gender balance of parliamentary candidates and increasing women’s representation as Members of Parliament.

14. We are in no doubt that work on a voluntary basis to help women members of political parties is extremely valuable in getting women interested in politics and in supporting women to hold public office. We would like all political parties to adopt, fund and promote training and development programmes for their women members. This should include high-quality programmes specifically aimed at helping women become parliamentary candidates for general elections.

15. Political parties need to have stronger and more visible outreach initiatives to attract and engage women. As part of this, parties should give in-depth consideration of how they can further support their women’s organisations in attracting and developing prospective parliamentary candidates.

16. We are additionally concerned that political parties should provide support for young women and women entering politics for the first time, often at local government level. There should be robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment, along with actions that help ensure that their first experience of elected office is a positive one.

17. We believe that there is no one mechanism which is the solution to ensure that women are represented equally in the House of Commons; a mixture of voluntary and institutional initiatives are required. Supply-side interventions such as training and mentoring are important for encouraging women’s participation in politics. However, the critical step of having more women elected into the House of Commons requires additional institutional initiatives and drive from political parties to select more women as parliamentary candidates.

18. We recommend that the Government extend the time for which the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 is in force, in order to allow political parties to use allwomen shortlists beyond 2030.

19. Party leaders need to demonstrate a clear sense of direction towards increasing women’s representation within their parliamentary parties. Party leadership must work in closer collaboration with their national decision-making bodies and local associations to deliver equality of opportunity for prospective women parliamentary candidates. Each political party needs to recognise the need to pull its weight in achieving gender equality; none of them can afford either to rest on their laurels or assume that better-performing parties will deliver an increase in women MPs by themselves.

20. We saw little evidence of robust work being conducted within parties to analyse the likely effectiveness of different mechanisms for achieving gender balance, or to set out detailed road maps for reaching that destination. Evidence of gender inequality persisting in decision-making bodies within parties is concerning, as is the attribution of such inequality to lack of demand by women to participate. Party strategies for increasing the number of women MPs should recognise the need to achieve better representation in these internal forums, and among candidates for other types of elected office including in local government.

21. We recommend that the Government bring forward legislative proposals to update the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to allow all-women shortlists for all elected mayor and police and crime commissioner posts.

22. A key element of parties taking responsibility for increasing the number of women in the House is ensuring that women are put in positions to win. Within their overall strategies for candidate selection, all political parties should explicitly identify winnable seats and adopt ambitious targets for women candidates in those seats; 50 per cent should be the minimum. Transparency on these points would enable the public to see exactly how seriously parties take the task of increasing women’s parliamentary representation.

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St Luke's Voice Winter 2018/19 edition