The Christmas edition of the Electoral Reform Society’s magazine, The Voter carries this short article from me:
Sadly, I am one of only 126 female MPs in a Parliament of 646. Parliament remains an old boys club, with its adversarial style of politics where bully-boy tactics are the norm; any of you who’ve watched PMQs will be fully aware of this.
And this feeds a political system that is so busy being adversarial that it forgets to be effective. This lack of representation is repeated throughout our political system. In local government, women make up just over a quarter of local councillors, whilst with MEPs it is a similar story: just one quarter female.
The quality of our government suffers from these imbalances – an impact which therefore affects us all, men and women. Women need to be there, with men, making these decisions, to ensure that public services and policy are relevant to all people and are capable of having a real effect on the lives, not just of women, but of everyone in society.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the allocation of resources, where the macho boys culture so often summons up the massive project and neglects the important details. When I was chair of transport at London Assembly it was starkly clear. Why is it that an obsession with boys-toys – the macho game of who’s got the biggest airport or the longest train – delivers multi-billion pound budgets for massive transport infrastructure projects yet not even a fraction of those budgets were spent on so called ‘soft measures’, such as making sure you can fit a double buggy through the door of a bus and making sure that local shopping centres and services are easily accessible – really easily accessible – through using public transport?
But it should not be a question of either or – it should be a matter of both. Some of our Nordic counterparts are light years ahead in terms of female representation, and we can see the practical effect on policy and resource priorities. Take Finland – with its childcare allowance for women who stay home and look after children under the age of 3 and its municipal care for children who are below the school age of 7.
We have come a long way in 90 years. It’s not enough, but we are constantly pushing, and constantly forcing change. I hope that within the next decade we will able to celebrate the achievement of equal and proper representation of women in politics, as another 90 is far too long to wait for this change!
It isn’t enough that women have the vote, and it isn’t enough that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan all rank above us internationally when it comes to women’s representation. Equal representation and involvement in politics is our right, and it is the women today who will bring about change tomorrow, by demanding the equal representation they deserve and by working together to achieve it.