The Political Quarterly

Cover image for Vol. 86 Issue 4

Edited By: Tony Wright and Deborah Mabbett

Impact Factor: 0.336

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2014: 129/161 (Political Science)

Online ISSN: 1467-923X

Feminizing Politics

Feminizing Politics

Left to right: Nan Sloane of the Centre for Women and Democracy, Professor Sarah Childs of Bristol University and Dr. Liz Evans of Kingston University.

Feminizing Politics Workshop

On Friday 4 November a group of activists, journalists, experts and politicians participated in our Feminizing Politics workshop. The purpose of the day was to discuss and analyse the disappointing progress of women into positions of political power in the UK. The event was jointly sponsored by the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life at Birkbeck and by the Political Quarterly

The discussion was impassioned and lively. Speakers were either politicians or professional observers of political life; all shared a commitment to women’s political representation and a concern that advances that have been made (although far from complete) might be slipping into reverse. The first half of the day was spent setting out the current state of gender inequality in British political life. We heard about the systematic under-representation of women in the key decision-making networks in the coalition government, the barriers to women’s selection as Parliamentary candidates and the structural problems faced by people with any kind of caring responsibilities when trying to combine doing politics and family life. The lack of diversity among the political class was a key concern with financial and time burdens restricting access alongside a party culture which favours younger politicians who have considerable experience working for their party or within Westminster but little experience of other kinds. A consensus was agreed that the ‘merit’ argument so often put forward against equality guarantees was a smokescreen for vested interests. Given that women make up 52% of the population the group agreed that finding 300 or so talented women to make up 50% percent (rather than 22%) of parliamentarians should not be too challenging. In the afternoon the direction of the debate moved to advance constitutional gender quotas - with a sunset clause - that would force parties to tackle head on the injustice of women’s exclusion from critical political decision-making by legally requiring them to ensure that no less than forty percent of their MPs be drawn from either sex. The group also argued in support of a number of other measures that, in combination with quotas above the level of party, may feminize British politics.

These were:
• The establishment of an equalities select committee in the House of Commons
• A limit on the number of executive directorships individuals can hold
• A limit on the number of public body appointments an individual can hold
• Pay for all local councillors
• Reconstitution of the Women’s National Commission – or equivalent
• Reconvening the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation convened on 12 November 2008 to consider the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large
• Legislation to require equality of outcomes in selection/appointment of women, to include effective sanctions
• Draft legislation or rules of public broadcasting to require media/public broadcasting to gender balance political images etc. during elections and more
• House of Lords reforms should include requirement of gender parity
• Modernisation of sitting hours
• A debate about the possibility of offering job shares for MPs