A Democratic Deficit – Why I want more women in Parliament

by Joanna Phaure, an Ambassador for  50:50 Parliament

At last, after centuries of lack of women in Parliament, the UK government is finally having an Inquiry into this important issue. They are inviting submissions to the Women and Equalities Select Committee.  I urge everyone who truly cares about democracy to contribute before the end of September. Please take this opportunity to have your say!

Click here for the terms of reference, and here for the submission form.

Women must keep pushing for equality otherwise things roll backwards

Every time women stop calling for their equal rights things inevitably move back towards the original unequal status quo. If we want a more equal society it has to start from the top. Seeing a more balanced male and female Parliament would help drive a whole host of positive changes. We want girls to enter traditionally male fields from STEM to politics. If girls could see equal representation they could be inspired to enter public life or ‘boys club’ careers.

In recent years, on some equality issues, such  as gay marriage, Parliament has demonstrated progressive leadership and an inclusive approach. It has taken steps to reduce intolerance against a minority group through proactive legislation. This is fantastic and so Parliament should drive wider equality initiatives and respect for the majority that are women.

Society will not change on it’s own.

Gender balance and respect is better for all

This week Oxfam’s research has highlighted the fact that the UK is one of the most unequal societies in the western world. One of the largest equality gaps is that between men and women. In 2012 the Fawcett Society reported that austerity disproportionately affected women and has made them poorer and less financially autonomous in a whole host of ways. From cuts in public sector jobs (which are overwhelmingly women’s jobs) to the cut back of vital services from refuges to legal aid.

Much of the work that women do is poorly paid or even unpaid but this does not make it worthless. Figures from the Office of National Statistics valued the unpaid household economy at £1 trillion in 2014. Just unpaid childcare provided by households and not included in measures of the paid economy were valued at £321 billion in 2014, emphasising the scale of some of these unpaid activities.

‘The Spirit Level’ (2009) demonstrated convincingly that more equal societies do better. Statistics from around the world show a well evidenced link between equality and happiness for all. Both men and women benefit from societies demonstrating more equality and respect.

Hate crimes would be addressed better by a more gender balanced Parliament

Hate crimes, those driven by misogyny, from FGM to domestic violence are rarely met with the same levels of shock and attention from the media and by our overwhelmingly male politicians when it comes to policy. It is interesting that the police themselves are currently looking at dealing with crimes against women as hate crimes, reflecting the lack of political impetus for any direct initiatives aimed at specifically reducing crime against women from our current Parliament.

Girlguiding UK released data showing that 9 out of 10 young girls had been victims of sexual harassment at school. The UK still does not have compulsory sex education or directives on how schools should tackle this highly gendered problem. And the fact that it is often dealt with lightly or by victim blaming demonstrates just how young children are when they start to experience the stark inequality between the genders. Children are the front line in our increasingly unequal society. There has been much coverage of the rising levels of anxiety in young people and especially girls. Inequality and a misogynous society are driving these rises.

A more gender balanced Parliament could begin to redress these inequalities. It could drive things forward in how we respond to challenges such as online trolling, revenge porn or other emergent crimes which are overwhelmingly aimed at women.

Parliament’s commitment to equal representation – a powerful message

I believe that high profile support, direct from Parliament, via a commitment to equal representation would begin to help ‘normalise’ female MPs and reduce the extra scrutiny they face partly because they are currently so few. It would also help existing female MPs be retained in the house for longer and improve the recruitment of women to stand for selection. Much can be achieved simply be committing to equal representation and ensuring that this commitment is widely debated and that mechanisms are proposed across the political spectrum.

I believe that the first step to increasing the representation of women in Parliament is to make a bold commitment to equal representation in the House. Simply by committing to this objective you are inviting women to see Parliament as a place that represents all of our interests and that legislates to defend our rights to safety and prosperity. I also believe there is work to be done in enabling women, from diverse backgrounds and with varied experiences to access politics as a career and play a greater role in shaping our futures.

Women play many important roles in communities and would make good MPs

Many women play important roles in their communities. They are community organisers, volunteers, charity fundraisers, run support groups and often work to improve their communities. Parliament needs to welcome this experience, politicians should be drawn from wider fields of experience.

More women in Parliament would enhance our democracy

Guaranteeing better gender balance, something closer to a 50:50 gender split in Parliament would broaden debate and enhance our democracy. Without it, many voices and experiences are lost and women’s roles diminished and overlooked.

A more gender balanced Parliament will enhance society and save lives.

In order that the equality which has been enshrined in the UN Charter “equal rights of men and women” is delivered we need a 50:50 Parliament. Equal pay will not be achieved, women’s rights will continue to fall short of full human rights, women will be murdered, crimes against women will go unpunished. The status quo will continue without a radical shift. I believe change can be driven from the center and in the case of women’s equality that change can save lives.

To sum up

If Parliament is committed to delivering equal representation in 2020 it would force political parties to do more now.

These are just a few of my reasons for submitting a letter to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. I am an Ambassador for 50:50 Parliament because I believe women are equal and deserve equal representation. Because I believe that the low level of representation of 50% of the population is a major democratic deficit. If you agree too please write to the inquiry and support 50:50 Parliament by signing our petition now at  change.org/5050Parliament!

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