'The Woman Problem'

27 Sep 2017

The UK has a problem with female participation in politics. Out of 193 countries, the UK is ranked in 39th place for its representation of women in politics. This may be surprising to some, but to others this is a reality that dare not speak its name.


The UK does not rank highly when it comes to gender equality. As of 2017, 32% of the commons and 26% of the lords are women. The UK also lags embarrassingly behind many far less economically developed countries, including Rwanda (rank- 1), Mexico (rank - 7), Mozambique (rank - 11) and Serbia (rank - 29). The UK is closer to Afghanistan (rank - 53) in terms of gender equality (which many consider to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman) than it is to topping the gender equality charts.


Interestingly, at least six of the top ten countries all have gender equality quotas in place. The UK has always had a sceptical approach to gender equality quotas, due to the fact that many of those who represent us in parliament feel that individuals ought to be elected to office purely on the basis of meritocracy rather than their gender. Going by this logic, many members of our government would have us believe that less than half of our parliament are female because women are less likely to capture the hearts of the public in order to be voted into office.


Whilst gender equality quotas are not the be all and end all of gender equality, there is some evidence to suggest that they can be effective in enabling more women to represent us in parliament. For example, following the genocide in Rwanda, a mandated quota was implemented in 2003 which reserved 30% of all 80 seats for women. As a result of this, Rwanda has reached the highest level of female representation in the world.


The UK has also used party specific gender quotas, such as the all-female short lists which were first introduced by the Labour party in 1993. This may be why 45% of all Labour MP’s are women, whereas women only make up a measly 21% of the Conservative party.


The US are ranked (not so) shockingly at 99 in terms of their percentage of women in politics. At present, the US have no existing gender equality quotas. This would explain the fact that the US, arguably the most powerful country in the world, has a smaller proportion of women in its political system than Afghanistan.


The reason why it is so important to have female participation in politics, is so women’s issues such as the gender pay gap, domestic violence and maternity rights can be effectively represented in parliament. These issues all affect men and women in different ways, and in a representative democracy, their significance can only be effectively represented if the amount of female MP’s equates to the amount of females in the country.


At the beginning of this year, the women and equalities select committee proposed that 45% of all MP’s should be women. This seems like a reasonable request, however, I can’t help but wince when I think of Philip Davies advocating that over half of all MP’s in Britain should be men.


The fact that the Conservative Party have chosen the most misogynistic MP that they could possibly find to represent them on the women and equalities committee shows that the UK do indeed have a women problem. If women’s issues are not effectively represented in parliament then society will never prosper, because, as Malala Yousafzai once said “how can we succeed if half of us are held back?”.


As we enter into a new political climate, it is absolutely vital that more women are encouraged to venture into politics. Having a female prime minister is simply not enough, it is still important to stress that women are not a minority group and if Parliament does not represent the 32 million women who live in the UK, then who will be there to hold the government to account for their policy affecting women?


Who is going to be there as a role model to girls to inspire them to be successful? When I look at the UK’s gender equality statistics, I find myself asking, is our representative democracy really representative if only 32% of our elected officials are women?


Undeniably women’s participation in politics has increased astronomically in the past decade, but whilst the women who fought for our very right to vote would be proud of how far we’ve come, they would still be disappointed that we haven’t come further. Globally, we still have a very long way to go.

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