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Enewsletter 83

New CFWD Report to be published next week

Next week, CFWD will be publishing an analysis of the impact of the Government’s legislative programme on the representation of women in decision-making and scrutiny roles at all levels. We’ve looked at the implications of eight pieces of legislation and one white paper, and whilst in some cases there will be very little change, in others women will lose out. In one major public service, nearly half of the women currently sitting on the relevant decision-making bodies will be removed overnight; in others women will be almost invisible. Because we don’t believe that this was foreseen – largely because the few Equality Impact Assessments that are carried out do not take account of decision-making roles – we’ve called the report Unintended Consequences. The research was made possible by a grant from the Feminist Review Trust, and it’ll be available from our website on Wednesday 27 July.

New Speaker of the House of Lords

The House of Lords has a new Speaker. Baroness (Frances) d’Souza is a crossbencher (i.e. not aligned to any political party) who became a life peer in 2004 and has been the convenor of the Crossbencher group of peers since 2007. Her special areas of interest are human rights and development, and she was elected using the Alternative Vote electoral system. She replaces Baroness (Helene) Hayman who decided not to stand for a further term of office. As an MP, Baroness Hayman was the first member of the House of Commons to have a baby during her term of office, and the first (in 1976) to breastfeed in the Palace of Westminster. Breast-feeding is still banned in the ‘public’ areas of the Palace, being confined instead to four ‘breastfeeding’ rooms. Both Baroness Hayman and Baroness d’Souza are well regarded in the Lords. The Lods’ Speaker, however, does not have the powers of her counterpart in the House of Commons, and takes a less active part in debates, although she is responsible for a variety of procedural and administrative matters, and is the ‘face’ of the chamber in the UK and abroad.


The Portugese general election held in June came in the wake of the previous government’s inability to get its ‘austerity’ package through parliament. For the first time in over twenty years, both the number and the percentage of women in the Portugese legislature fell; there are now 61 women (26.5%) as opposed to the previous 63 (27.5%). In 1991 8.7% of Portugal’s MPs were women – better than the UK’s 6.3% at that time but still very poor. Since then the level has increased at every election until now.

If the Portugese result is put together with the removal of all but one woman from the Greek cabinet, the poor showing of women in the Irish elections and the very small increase in women MPs in the 2010 election in Britain, some interesting questions seem to be raised about what happens to women in politics during times of economic crisis. A not entirely dissimilar pattern can be observed in the UK the nineteen-thirties, when the number of women MPs fell in 1935 from 15 to 9, and did not get back into double figures until 1945.

Meanwhile the number of women presidents or prime ministers increased to 19 with the addition of successful businesswoman (and sister of a previous PM) Yingluck Shinawatra as the Prime Minister of Thailand. There are 9 countries with women prime ministers (Australia, Bangladesh, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Iceland,Slovakia, Thailand and Trinidad & Tobago) and 10 with women presidents (Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Finland, India, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania and Switzerland). Finland is the only country to have women in both posts.

Women on boards in the UK and Norway … and leading trade unions
Earlier this year Lord Davies produced a report on women in the boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies which said that, at 12.5% the level was too low, and set a target of 25% by 2015. According to research by the Cranfield School of Management, there has been an increase in the number of women appointed, so that the figure on FTSE 100 boards has now inched up to 13.9% whilst that for FTSE 250 boards from 7.8% to 8.7%  - better, but still not good.

In Norway, on the other hand, the position is rather different. In 2003 just 7% of dorectors were women; this has now risen to 42%, and despite some criticism about women holding muliple directorships (as though men don’t) and the introduction of the depressing term ‘golden skirt’ to describe such a woman, the fact is that legislation was the key driving force for the increase. Lord Davies drew back from suggesting compulsion in the UK at the moment, and there seems to be some recognition that if quotas are to be avoided companies need to be more proactive than they have been in the past. The new 30% Club , launched this month, is signing up businesses to try to make sure that the target is met, and now has some high-profile support including John Lewis, Centrica and Ernst & Young.

As an aside, and in the interests of balance, we also looked at the gender balance of trade union general secretaries. On the up side, 28.3% of the 53 listed on the TUC’s website are women; on the down side, however, none of them are running the country’s largest unions.

And Finally ...

Here’s something interesting – an interactive timeline on the Guardian website (based on the UN Women’s Justice Report 2011) showing when women around the world got the vote. You just click on the decade tabs at the bottom, and the countries where women could vote show on the map. We hadn’t realised, for instance, that women in France did not get the vote until 1945, whilst in Germany women were enfranchised at the same time as women in the UK. Women and the Vote Interactive Timeline