Submission from Clare Laxton and Lee Webster
Clare is a 24 year old Politics graduate,
self proclaimed radical feminist and women's campaigner. She has
worked in the charity sector for the last year and a half for
a disability charity and now a sexual health charity. She writes
feminist articles and is interested in issues such as abortion
and disabled women's issues.
Lee is a 30 year old campaigner on disability
rights, women's issues and social justice. She has a Masters in
Gender and International Development, and a particular interest
in women's representation in politics in southern Africa. Her
expertise lies in grassroots capacity building and supporting
people to campaign on the issues that matter to them.
Clare are Lee are currently setting up a
new social enterprise, that aims to support the voices of young
women to be heard by those in power.
We believe that the lack of women in
Parliament, and politics, means that not only are women's interests
not represented in Parliament but that legislation that is debated
and passed on women's issues such as abortion can be lacking in
legitimacy. The low number of female MPs also creates a lack of
role models for young political women and can lead to low expectations
of female achievement in our society.
We support positive action to level the
playing field for women is a short term but important solution
to the lack of women in Parliament.
However, we believe that if the Speaker's
Conference and Parliament itself wants to be totally representative
then it needs to totally reform in terms of times of sitting and
the chamber itself.
1. Currently less than 20% of MPs in the
UK are women. This not only compares poorly to many other countries
in the world but also to the devolved Welsh Assembly (which has
50% women AMs) and Scottish Parliament (which has nearly 40% MSPs).
2. Both a cause and an effect of this statistic
is the low number of women in leadership positions across all
the main political parties. Taking a quick look at the Cabinet
and the Shadow Cabinets altogether there are ten women in the
seventy five cabinet positionsthat is 13% of Cabinet and
Shadow Cabinet positions that are taken up by women. Is it any
wonder that women are put off from entering politics?
3. The lack of women in Parliament not only
means that Parliament is no where near representative of the population
but also that the main business of the house is discussed wholly
with a male bias. Debates, legislation and Acts passed by Parliament
have a lack of legitimacy because they are not passed by a representative
group. An example of this could be debates on abortion legislationdecisions
that primarily affects women and their right to make choices about
their body made by men. This is not an empowering or accountable
system of political decision making.
4. We believe that the lack of women in
Parliament also means that there is a lack of role models for
young political women to aspire to.
"What sort of role models do we have? If
we don't see women in positions of power all we've got to look
at is footballer's wives,"female student, age 20.
We believe that the gender discrimination that remains
in Parliament, and the political arena in general, means that
female MPs are often subject to judgments about their clothes,
hair and make up which lead to assumptions about their capabilities
as politicians. Whereas male MPs, though they can also be subject
to comments about their ties or hair, do not have their capabilities
judged by their appearance.
5. We believe that positive action to level
the playing field for women is a short term but important solution
to the lack of women in Parliament. All women short lists and
quotas enable our political institutions to become more representative.
Rwanda, the current world leader in representation of women, has
a quota system for women politicians and in the last elections
became the first parliament to have more than half of it's members
women. Several other countries in Africa, such as Mozambique,
Angola and South Africa, have led the way in this field. We would
direct you towards the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
for more information and resources, including case studies of
good practice from around the world (www.idea.int).
6. Although we agree with positive action,
if Parliament really wants to be more representative of society
then it needs to totally reform. As an institution, the Houses
of Parliament were created for old, upper-class, land-owning,
white men as a place to wile away their retirement. It was established
as an elite institution, not as a representative institution.
The House itself is geared up for face to face combat not intelligent
debate. Current late night divisions and debates don't take into
account caring responsibilities that people might have, and parliamentary
surroundings and work style as been described as generally inaccessible
by many women MPs.
7. We welcome the Speaker's Conference as
a real step forward in commitment to a more representative style
of government. We strongly believe that the whole country should
be energized and empowered to take part in the debate. It is essential
to talk to people at grassroots level to really understand the
barriers facing women, disabled people and people from ethnic
minorities from entering politics and standing for election.
8. Furthermore, we would like to comment
that as a consultation the Speaker's Conference call for evidence
is in itself an example of a parliament removed from the people
of the UK. It is a pity that a great opportunity to be empowering
and representative has been lost. A three month consultation period
is good practice, not five weeks over Christmas and New Year.
Furthermore, the consultation has not been advertised on the Parliament
website but through other organisations like the Electoral Reform
System. The consultation further marginalises women from the political
processes and means that Parliament and the Speaker's Conference
won't get to hear the opinions of grassroots women.
9. We urge you to reach out to people at
all levels of society and involve them in the debateand