On 7 June 1866 Millicent Fawcett presented the first Suffrage petition to Parliament. One hundred and fifty years later there are still 140% more men than women in the House of Commons. This is a historic injustice and a democratic deficit.
Why, in 2016, is the “Mother of Parliaments” still so full of men?
50:50 Parliament is a contemporary petition asking all the party leaders for solutions to right this wrong. The disparity in the Commons is bad but the House of Lords is even worse: the name says it all. If Parliament is inaccessible to the majority that are women it must be inaccessible to many others. It needs sorting!
Women have been knocking on the door at Westminster forever. 50:50 knows of women of all political persuasions who have repeatedly applied to be candidates and been turned down, one more than 15 times in spite of her years of political campaigning experience. She is not alone in her persistent quest for political participation. Why are experienced women not selected as candidates and why are women candidates not given winnable seats?
The Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 affirmed “the equal rights of men and women”; however, UK politics is still far from being fully representative. The lack of women at Westminster matters because, as Professor Ngaire Woods from Oxford University has said, “We know that when women are in parliament…it builds more resilient, responsive, better informed institutions.” The evidence is overwhelming. Parliament should draw from the widest possible pool of talent, including the UK’s 32 million women.
MPs are our representatives. They need to be able to empathise and communicate. Women can do this. Women have a wealth of experience and skills. They make a massive contribution to society with both their paid and unpaid work. The ONS valued the unpaid household economy at £1trillion in 2014. This is equivalent to approximately 56.1% of UK GDP. Unpaid childcare provided by households (not included in measures of the paid economy) was valued at £321billion in 2014, emphasising the scale of some of these unpaid activities, many of them carried out by women. Women account for 82% of paid professional carers. They are 50% of university graduates and 60% of law graduates. Women merit fair inclusion in Parliament, without them legislation is not fully informed.
Representation shapes the policies and policies affect women. As President Obama pointed out recently, when asked why there was tax on tampons he replied “because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed”. This example is the tip of the iceberg; most laws are passed with little input from women, it is still mainly men that debate and draft them.
On the basis of the progression over the last 10 elections it will take until 2050 for there to be a gender balanced Parliament.
The lives of men and women are changing. When it comes to running the country and planning the future of society, women’s experience is as relevant and useful as men’s.
The vitriolic abuse that women can receive for voicing opinions is appalling. It is great to see the launch of the cross-party #ReclaimtheInternet campaign but some of the derisive responses on social media were telling. We cannot let Twitter trolls gag women, hamper free speech and in so doing undermine debate and democracy. Women must continue to speak up and be encouraged to engage. Their experience and opinions are valuable. It is imperative in a ‘liberal democracy’ that we have frank discussion, respect and democratic resolutions, only then can we make peaceful progress.
50:50 Parliament is an inclusive campaign, people of all genders from across the UK have signed up. The 50:50 Parliament Petition is like a referendum on gender equality. If you agree that Parliament should be more inclusive of women and that we should aim for better gender balance at Westminster then say so. Sign and share the 50:50 Parliament Petition at change.org/5050Parliament. Go one step further in supporting the campaign by becoming a 50:50 Parliament Ambassador.
One hundred and fifty years after the first Suffrage Petition the campaign for political equality continues!