Why does it matter how many women are in politics?

Downing Street road signLast weekend I talked at a conference about empowering women to play more active roles in different countries to help bring peace and to take part in democratic processes. There’s no doubt that we’re relatively lucky in the UK compared with many – in fact most – other countries around the world in terms of how women are treated by men and by society’s structures.

There is though work to be done, and as one of the thoughts I think lurking at the back of the minds of some people I talk to is “women have equal rights in the UK, so why bother with all this stuff about gender balance here?” I thought I’d expand on what I said on that topic at the conference.

I was listening to the radio a little while back and Bob Geldof was on. Bob apparently believes that it is wonderful to come home to his wife in the kitchen doing womanly things probably with food or curtains – so feminine, so warm!

It’s the sort of view that makes me want to throw up usually – but then I thought about it. What he was extemporising was actually not that different from my view – because I think women make the world a better place too – it’s the place we differ on.

I think women’s virtual absence from high level decision making both in politics and in business has meant that the world we live in has been skewed to one gender’s bias. And we know that diversity is what gives life its richness and its balance and for too long it has been out of kilter.

Most of the decisions that affect women’s lives have been made by men – not just in politics but in the wider world of business too.

Now I love men. I value their input. I’ve even consorted with them on occasion – but the paucity of women in politics has a real and detrimental effect on the quality of decision making and policy.

It is 90 years since women were given the vote in the U.K. and 80 years since female voters were granted exactly the same rights as men. But the U.K. still has a long way to go to ensure that women have equal status in the political process.

Currently only one in five MPs are women, and in 2007 we were joint fifty-first internationally on the number of women in Parliament. Beaten by Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as some of our European partners such as Sweden, Germany, and Finland.

Even our devolved governments of Scotland and Wales fare better on representation: a third of the Scottish Parliament and just under half of the Welsh assembly are women.

Women have to be properly represented in Parliament to ensure that they have a say on issues that affect them. When Parliament voted a few weeks ago on whether or not the abortion limit should be reduced, 80% of those voting were men. Whilst the limit was not reduced, it is a measure of how far we still have to go that the vast majority of the chamber which is able to restrict a woman’s right to choose is populated by men.

Women have an important and positive role to play in politics. Having more women involved in politics inevitably ensures that issues faced by and relevant to women, take a prominent place on the political agenda and can be dealt with more effectively due to the positive input of women. If you look at some of our European counterparts, you will see the impact that the involvement of women has made – the way that, for example, in Finland far more attention and resources is given to childcare issues than in countries where it is the males who dominated such political decision making.

These days just about everyone talks about how consultation and involvement and other such phrases are important. But whilst we’d be up in arms if – say – a bus route was determined with only a tiny say being given to the users of the bus route, far too often there is a little burst of blindness that says it’s ok for issues that hugely effect women to be overwhelmingly decided by men.

Now, as to why there aren’t more women elected as MPs and to other political posts … that will have to keep for another day!

0 thoughts on “Why does it matter how many women are in politics?

  1. I agree. I would argue that there is a need for increasing the participation of women, particularly women from BME communities and other under-represented groups in order to improve democracy and ensure that Parliament reflects the society that we live in. Furthermore, we should value the role women play not only in politics, but in a wide range of professions, particularly when you compare that reality to countries such as Saudi Arabia and others whom prohibit women from playing any role in their respective societies. We should be proud of our women and thus should encourage them to play a greater role in our society. We not only require female representation in the House of Commons, but I want to see more female representation in the House of Lords too. It is not a matter of being tokenistic; it is in fact a matter of reflecting the diversity of our society in Britain today. Similarly, we need to see people from BME and faith communities taking a greater part in regional party politics at every level within all political parties.

  2. In my own field of transport, I look around and I see the Transport Secretary – a woman; the north west traffic commissioner – a woman; the managing director of Northern – a woman.I rest my case.See you at GMTPTA fringe meeting at the conference!www.transportmatters.co.uk

  3. Lib Dems have got to put their money where their mouths are. Again, you ditched a woman, for what you consider a ‘winnable seat’, in Henley. With respect, Lynne, I am not sure you get it.

  4. Considering the comment “because I think women make the world a better place too”Surely this suggests that Lynne believes that men do the contary. Should Lynne be judging me without knowing me ?I would also suggest women are better represented on the political scene than other groups. It depends which groups of people you wish to look at. There are more ways of looking at society tham from a gender basis – at least there is if you’re not sexist.

  5. Where does Lynne Featherstone say that? I think you are reading in to her words what you want to read and disagree with.

  6. Yes I definitely agree with you Lynne, we need a healthy balance of male and female views in politics. Also, one other place that doesn’t get enough attention is the judiciary – I believe the gender balance is even worse among our judges (do correct me if I’m wrong!) and I think that it’s vital that women’s views are represented amongst the judges whose job it is to interpret our laws.

  7. Totally agree! Its vital we have more female MPs. I was shocked at hearing how few female MPs we have. I knew they were a minority, but 20%!! I’m also disapointed at the lack of women in the current cabinet.

    I dont think women should be upset at Geldolfs remarks. He was appreciating his wife, which isnt something all men do. I LOVE women behaving womanly. Looking at dresses, crying at chick flicks and nattering about nail vanish. But I have no problem with being strong and being involved in the mans world. I would just prefer it if you didnt loose your feminine charms or morals whilst doing it. (not saying you personally have- i’m thinking Thatcher) Femininity brings so much beauty and joy into this world, so please dont abandon this!

  8. If women want more representation then they have to get involved, simply complaining about it and putting it down to discrimination is a bit of a cop out. Perhaps a campaign criticising women for not getting involved should be started. The Equalities Minister has no compunction about criticisng men.