Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Submission from FATIMA Women's Network (SC-41)

  FATIMA Women's Network formal response to Speaker's Conference on the underrepresentation of women in the House of Commons, including ethnic minority, disabled, and other minority women.

  FATIMA Women's Network is the leading women's infrastructure organisation supporting diverse women's groups. As an independent, strategic and diverse organisation, using dynamic interventions to support women and their families, particularly from minority communities, to achieve gender equity, social, economic and environmental justice we are active in several fora:

    — FATIMA's application for NGO Consultative Status to the UN is currently under consideration by the Committee.

    — FATIMA is a member of the consultative platform for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.

    — FATIMA is the UK lead for the UN initiative for Women's Organisations Working on Empowerment and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    — FATIMA is the UK partner and a founder member of the European Network of Migrant Women, formally launched in Brussels in December 2008 and started in January 2007.

    — FATIMA's report Global Issues-Local Voices: Use of International Instruments & Agencies was launched at the 52nd UN Commission on the Status of Women 2008.

    — FATIMA is a founder partner of the national BME infrastructure partnership Voice4Change.

    — FATIMA works to raise awareness of social enterprise amongst Black, Asian, Ethnic Minority and Refugee communities.

  This Response is based on our extensive experience of engaging with women and families from diverse communities since October 2002 and on a number of projects related to leadership development, civic participation, intercultural dialogue, interfaith, entrepreneurship, use of international instruments and agencies and preventing violent extremism.

  Prepared by Parvin Ali CEO & Founder and:

    — Business Board Member of the East Midlands Regional Development Agency with lead for Business Support & Enterprise.

    — Member of the East Midlands Regional Assembly.

    — Member of the National Muslim Women Advisory Group, chaired by Hazel Blears.

    — Founder Member and Board lead for women on the Cedar Network—the European Network of Muslim Professionals, launched in January 2009.

    — Founder Member of the World Islamic Businesswomen Network, part of the World Islamic Economic Forum.

    — Founder Member on Board of the Regional VCS Infrastructure Single Platform.


  This Response is based on our extensive experience of engaging with women and families from diverse communities since October 2002 and on a number of projects related to leadership development, civic participation, intercultural dialogue, interfaith, entrepreneurship, use of international instruments and agencies and preventing violent extremism.

1.  Are Problems Caused by the Unbalanced Representation in the House of Commons of Different Groups in Society?

  If the views of those groups are important in the decision making process then it is EXTREMELY problematic if they are not represented and irresponsible. Even government has recognised this in 2005 DCLG Strong and Prosperous Communities


and 2008 DCLG Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power


  Devolved power must be extended to ALL citizens not just the lucky few and the decision making bodies need to better reflect the diversity of those citizens. This is clearly not the case at present. Gender Budgeting has never been properly implemented and yet this would be a key way to ensure parity in legislation.

2.  If So What Are Those Problems?

  1.  Perception: The view held by a significant percentage of diverse communities- particularly women- that barriers are insurmountable, and change has been very, very slow and erratic. Tokenistic appointments are also more likely to be men.

  2.  Expectations: Election of Barack Obama as President of USA and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State expectations raised exponentially. Discussions ensued on why the UK has not supported development of Black leadership or produced women leaders. The visible lack of diverse representation reinforces apathy of political parties to significantly change.

  3.  UK Model: Ironically the UK democratic model of a multi-cultural and pluralistic society has been slow to accommodate women, Ethnic Minorities, and disabled people and is now viewed as mechanistic and intransigent and incapable of accommodating diversity at this level.

  4.  Lack of Voice: Greater need for political representation amongst marginalised groups than amongst other sections of society, to counter-balance their multiple disadvantages and their lack of voice in society.

  5.  Elitist: White, middle-class, able bodied men are disproportionately represented in Parliament and men still outnumber women in all local councils. Those elected from ethnic minorities are more likely to be professional and middle class. Therefore socio-economic factors play a significant role.

  6.  Lip Service: Government gives primacy to white, professional males and does not actively encourage other sections of society.

  7.  Ageism: Young women, Ethnic Minorities, and disabled people are even less represented in the House of Commons and this sends a clear message that political representation and engagement is for people of a "certain age".

3.  Is There a Relationship Between These Levels of Representation and Voter Attitudes to Parliament?

  There is a clear correlation between levels of representation and voter attitudes.

  1.  Parliament is seen as "elitist" and inaccessible. For marginalised groups its representatives are therefore a reflection of this resulting in disengagement and voter apathy amongst citizens.

  2.  Muslim voters for many years felt little affiliation with the democratic process as they had interpreted the government's controversial foreign policy to be directly linked to the lack of Members of Muslim origin. Consequently they were more likely to vote in a local election than a general election, as they felt less able to influence at the national level.

  3.  Voting patterns at local and national level vary and often provide an insight into issues that citizens feel they are able to influence due to closer engagement and identification with local candidates.

4.  What Are The Reasons Why More Women, People From Ethnic Minorities, and Disabled People Do Not Become Members of Parliament?

  The primary reason that these marginalised groups do not become Members of Parliament is that they DO NOT COME FORWARD to stand for election or selection. The highly competitive nature of party politics means that no party wants to risk seats with candidates from marginalised groups, as this does not always equate with securing votes from that self-same group in an election. Hence need for selection not election.

Why Don't More From These Groups Consider Standing For Election

  1.  The system that elects or selects candidates is not equally disposed to ALL sections of the community. Therefore they are less likely to be selected or elected and therefore very little chance of being successful.

  2.  The burden of public scrutiny and public interest intensifies when representatives from minority groups are elected/selected. This level of pressure and scrutiny is difficult to bear and even less so for those who may have issues about confidence particularly women and those from Ethnic Minority communities; for some disabled people even being photographed too frequently may be intrusive.

  3.  Need to perform well above the average to justify their being selected in the first place. Minor gaffes become PR disasters for the marginalised groups which they are purported to represent and they may feel inadequate to the task of meeting the high expectations once they have "broken through" the glass ceiling.

  4.  Representation role is too narrow and they do not always wish to be seen as representatives of a minority groups but rather individuals representing a geographical constituency or a wider community of interest.

  5.  Lack of a transparent process as for example access to the House of Lords is not a very transparent process and seen as somewhat arbitrary and whimsical, often based on the political relations of the individuals rather than their contribution to society.

  6.  Tarnished predecessors who have been representatives from Women, Ethnic Minority or disabled groups have sometimes been embroiled in activities that undermined the integrity of future representatives from these constituencies. Therefore acting as a deterrent to others particularly women who worry about what the children will think of them.

  7.  Little hope of succeeding as the pervading view is that white, able-bodied, middle class and/or professional males are preferred and others need not bother to apply.

  8.  Low confidence due to discrimination and so women, particularly from Ethnic Minority communities, who have experienced multiple disadvantages and discrimination requires a very high level of courage almost bordering on the masochistic to put themselves forward.

  9.  Organisational culture of Parliament is such that it is London-centric, Christian, White male dominated, and family-unfriendly all of which conspires to preclude the full participation of women who have families (generally women up to 55 years of age) as increasingly women are leaving it until late to have children.

  10.  Poor work-life balance as there is an expectation that one must be available at all hours and bonded to the State and one's constituency.

Or If They Do Why Aren't More of Them Selected?

  11.  Risk-Narrow representation: They are perceived to primarily represent their own constituency and this is too narrow a platform for success.

  12.  Risk-Single issue: May have "political baggage" related to the individual standing for office because of a particular issue which may reduce their chance of being elected by a majority of the electorate, as even on single issues there are multiple perceptions and loyalties.

  13.  System for selection: Far fewer Ethnic Minorities, women and disabled people participate in local politics to ensure they have any influence in selection, therefore the critical mass that is needed to select a candidate of their choice is lacking.

  14.  Presentation skills: Those that do participate are often professional, middle class, able-bodied White males who are able to provide a well articulated proposal for their candidate to an audience very similar to themselves.

  15.  Time, care and financial constraints:

    — Time—campaign, network and build alliances;

    — Care issues—related to children and elderly relatives;

    — Financial-often seeking public office requires some disposable income and /or flexible employment and whilst those from professional classes can piggy back their work related networking with their political one this may not be the case for those from non-professional backgrounds, and it is the professional class that tends to be represented at branches where the selection is often done.

These factors prohibit many women who are often the primary carers but particularly affect those from diverse communities where women are not expected to relinquish their domestic responsibilities despite working outside the home.

Or If They Are Why Aren't More of Them Elected?

  16.  Risk-Narrow representation: They are perceived to primarily represent their own constituency and this is too narrow a platform for political parties to risk a seat.

  17.  Risk-Single issue: Often "political baggage" such as their group responding to a particular issue such as Muslims countering the epithet that they are "all terrorists" can mean that whilst this spurs them to seek public office the voters only see them capable of responding to this issue.

  18.  System for selection: Current system for selection means that only a few people make the decision and the majority are not engaged at all. The party political system also requires people to sign up to a particular position in advance of understanding what the implications may be to their communities such as Foreign Policy etc and many may find this hard to do. Invariably those who have succeeded and bypassed the system have been well-connected, professional, middle class White males, who are parachuted into safe seats and have no demonstrable record of political participation before that time..

  19.  Time, care and financial constraints: These are often in short supply for women who are often still the primary carers and amongst diverse communities where children are expected to be supported until they leave home.

5.  What Are The Problems and Practical Difficulties Encountered-At Any Point In The Process of Selection and Election-By Members of These Under-Represented Groups Who Are Looking To Become MPs?

  Finance, time, lack of mobility including use of car, and care issues impact on ability to campaign and lobby.

6.  What Actions Could Be Taken By The Government To Address Disparities In Representation?

  FATIMA Women's Network strongly believes that our members are disempowered by the lack of strategic voice for women from diverse communities in key policy areas. As often Black, Asian, Ethnic Minority and refugee women's issues are subsumed under either race or gender and the critical inter-sectionality is neither properly understood nor addressed.

  The separating of several policy strands such as migration and development, preventing violent extremism, faith and inter-faith between several generic organisations or speacilaist ones who only focus on one of these issues, means there will always be an adverse impact on women and families from diverse communities. This has been particularly exacerbated by the creation of the single commission—the new Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

  The necessity of a voice to champion their issues and provide a much needed national, visible platform through effective engagement with grass roots communities cannot be emphasized enough.

  The need for 50:50 representation within all political parties and representative bodies is vital for parity and a very good base for further diversity.

    1. Affirmative Action: It is imperative to have cross party agreement on short term affirmative action to improve representation such as quotas.

    2. 50: 50: It should be mandatory to have 50:50 political representation of women and men at all levels even in political parties.

    3. Truly diverse not just prescriptive: Our members do not feel it necessary to be too prescriptive as the point made potential candidates like to feel they are able to represent their political constituency as well as their community of interest. Members also pointed out that often focus too narrow and only focussed on representatives of African, Caribbean, Indian or Pakistani origin rather than simply looking to diversify representation overall and including women originating from South East Asia like Malaysia or Middle East who are also significantly present in the UK but more importantly truly reflective of a pluralistic and multi-cultural society.

    4. Different election models: Research into different models to consider how best long term to improve representation such as in Europe where proportional representation has been reasonably successful and even the quota system.

    5. Capacity building: The opportunities for placements, internships, shadowing and mentoring schemes should be increased and made more widely available.

    6. Accessible government: Government needs to be seen to be more accessible and familiar to ALL groups and sections of society, not just the privileged few.

    7. Closed lists and all-women lists : In certain areas where significant concentration of Ethnic Minorities worth considering closed lists of candidates who are non-White and increasing number of women.

    8. Welsh Assembly: The model for the Welsh Assembly where there one man and one women in each constituency area should be explored.

    9. Actively recruit: Many women lack confidence to come forward so "head hunting" should be widespread and inclusive, rather than only high flyers; and potential candidates could attend intense week-end to identify those wanting to go forward.

    10. Unelected cross-bench MPs and Councillors: A few places reserved for People's MPs who are not elected but selected because they have a good track record of working with the community. They need not be bound by any Whip.

    11. Subsidising campaign finance: Limits on funding for campaigns and bursaries if their manifesto does not exclude certain sections of the community, as in case of far right parties.

7.  What Actions Have Been, Or Could Be, Taken By Political Parties, Campaigning Groups And Others To Address Disparities In Representation?

  7.1  Whilst FATIMA work with the Electoral Reform Society and various government initiatives we have no resources to actively work on this agenda.Very little has been done because no one accepts responsibility.

8.  What Actions Have Been Taken Elsewhere In The UK and Overseas, And By Whom, To Address Similar Concerns?

  European countries have used affirmative action such as quotas, proportional representation, all-women's lists, and the 50:50 rule

And How Can The Success Of Such Actions Be Measured?

  Diverse representation at all levels and 50:50 gender balance as well as gender sensitive policies including Gender Budgeting. Once this has been achieved closed or all-women lists should no longer be required. However it would be well worth keeping a few spaces for selected candidates to ensure the inclusive model is maintained as other marginalised groups can come up eg travellers, refugees etc.

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Prepared 27 May 2009