The Counting Women In coalition has today published Sex and Power 2014: Who Runs Britain?. The report examines the presence, or lack thereof, of women in powerful positions in politics and other spheres of public life in the UK today. It then goes on to consider the implications of a country largely governed by men, and makes a series of recommendations for tackling the dearth of women in influential positions.
Key findings include:
- Britain is falling down the global league tables when it comes to women’s representation in politics we have continued to be overtaken by other countries: we have slipped dramatically from 33rd place in 2001, and 62nd place in 2010, to 65th in 2014.
- Women currently comprise only:
- Women are also seriously under-represented in local government, particularly in leadership roles.
- The 2015 General Election presents the next big opportunity for all parties to make progress. Fielding women in target and retirement seats is the most reliable way of achieving this.
- To date, the Labour Party are leading the way with women comprising 53.5% of those fielded in target and retirement seats. The Liberal Democrat Party comes next with 40.5% and the Conservative Party is lagging behind on only 34.5%.
Key recommendations include:
- All political parties should take (or continue to take) immediate action to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of election, and to draw those candidates from as wide a variety of backgrounds and communities as possible.
- An equalities monitoring form similar to that used in recruitment for public appointments should be introduced by the relevant election authority so that we can get a much better understanding of who is (and isn’t) standing for election in our democracy.
- The media should ensure that their coverage of political issues includes women and their views, treats all contributors with the dignity and respect to which they are entitled, and accords with the Code of Conduct published by the National Union of Journalists.
Nan Sloane, Director of the Centre for Women & Democracy, and the author of the report, said:
“If we really care about who has political power in this country we need to do something about the unrepresentative nature of our elected institutions. Sex & Power 2014 shows a shocking absence of women from powerful roles in Britain, with very little improvement since last year. Along with other excluded groups women have already waited for generations for equal access to power, and we’re still being asked to wait decades to achieve it. That’s not good enough; we need real change now.”
Dr Eva Neitzert, Deputy Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said:
“Elections are a unique opportunity for parties to make a real improvement in the number of women MPs we have. We urge the parties to take immediate action to improve the number of women candidates they are fielding in safe and retirement seats. It is crucial for good decision-making that women – who make up more than half the population – have a say on key issues affecting their lives and the country as a whole.”
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“At the tail-end of this Parliament, we are still not much closer to seeing real gender equality in our politics. Despite a headline-grabbing reshuffle earlier this year, the Prime Minister failed to reach his own target of making a third of his ministers female. It shouldn’t be so difficult to make sure one in three people at the top table of politics are women, which is why political parties have to redouble their efforts to open up.
“With Britain to 65th in the world ranking of parliaments by female representation this year, patience is wearing thin. Getting more women into politics isn’t just about equality and fairness – it’s about not wasting the potential, talent and expertise of half the population. It’s time all concerned recognise the urgency of this situation, and work together to pull down the barriers to women participating in politics. For the sake of good government, we cannot afford to ignore the problem any longer.”
Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society said:
“At best it looks like there will be only a modest improvement in the number of women in Parliament after next year’s general election and the UK will continue to drift down the international league tables. But if the political parties, the government and the media are really serious about tackling this issue then the realistic, practical steps we have outlined could still be implemented in the coming months to improve the culture of politics and the general election campaign.”
Alexandra Runswick, Chief Executive of Unlock Democracy, said:
“It is deeply disappointing that while other countries make progress in improving the representation of women in public life the UK falls even further behind. Our democracy and public life is weaker because it misses the skills experience and talents of over half the population.”
The lack of female involvement in UK politics is is a particularly visible example of how the system fails to represent people more widely. It is not enough to recognise the problem and simply hope that things will improve; we need Parliament and politicians to take urgent action.