Submission by the Centre for Women &
deals specifically with the representation
of women in parliament
in particular addresses what actions
could be taken by the Government, political parties and others
to address disparities in diversity (in this case in terms of
looks in some detail at these issues
in the context of experience both in the UK and abroad
proposes that the UK adopt, for parliamentary
elections, a quota system which requires political parties to
ensure that a given percentage of their candidates are women
proposes that there should be effective
sanctions if the quotas are not met
proposes the establishment of a Democracy
Diversity Fund to support parties in finding, training and selecting
good candidates of both genders from all communities
proposes that such a system should be
subject to review after each election, and that, if there is evidence
to suggest that it is no longer necessary, abolished.
1.1 This submission deals specifically with
the representation of women in parliament, and in particular addresses
what actions could be taken by the Government, political parties
and others to address disparities in diversity (in this case in
terms of gender). It looks at these issues in the context of experience
both in the UK and abroad, and makes recommendations which include
proposals for the monitoring of success.
1.2 The Centre for Women & Democracy
(CFWD) was established in 2007 to research and campaign on
issues of women's representation at all levels of public life.
Based in Leeds, CFWD works predominantly in the north of England,
but also has a national remit.
2.1 Women have been able to stand in General
Elections since 1918, but to date progress in integrating women
into the parliamentary system has been painfully slow. There are
currently only 126
women MPs (19.5% of the House of Commons). In 1918, one woman
was elected (and 706 men), and the percentage of women MPs
did not reach 5% until 1964. In 1992, it rose to 9%, and in 1997 reached
2.2 The two charts on the following page
below illustrate both the figures and the percentages for each
party between the 1987 and 2005 General Elections.
2.3 Internationally, the UK is in the upper
half of the "league table", but is falling steadily
down it. In 2007 there were 49 countries with a greater
percentage of women in their legislatures than the UK; there are
2.4 Figures from the Electoral Reform Society
have already demonstrated thatregardless of the resultthere
is already very little possibility of increasing the number of
women MPs at the next General Election, and that it may well actually
decrease. This will result in the UK falling even further behind
internationally, especially since other countries will continue
to overtake us as their elections are held.
3. THE POLITICAL
3.1 The current political system is one
which has developed very slowly over centuries, making very slight
adjustmentsusually slightly behind the timesto take
account of social, political and economic change. From time to
time this incremental process has been punctuated by major change
brought about after considerable debate and some upheavalthe
1832 Reform Act, for instance, or the enfranchisement of
women in 1918.
3.2 This incremental approach worked reasonably
well while Britain was one of the few stable democracies in the
world, but today many aspects of the way in which the democratic
process worksboth inside the House and outside itare
seen as outdated and obstructive.
3.3 It is not reasonable to suppose that
matters such as the physical arrangements inside the chamberwhich
encourage adversarial debateare likely to be changed as
a result of this or any other process, and we are therefore not
making recommendations along those lines, and although there may
well be some sense in examining the way in which debates work,
it is not proposed to examine this in detail here.
3.4 It is also the case that the very poor
reputation of politics as a profession is discouraging to many
sections of the population, and this will require major changein
the culture of the press and the tone of society as well as in
the behaviour of some MPs themselvesif it is to be mitigated.
Again, this submission does not make detailed recommendations,
but notes that any structural, constitutional or electoral changes
will have to be accompanied by a significant improvement in culture
and perception as well as a public debate.
4.1 It is proposed that the UK adopt, for
parliamentary elections at least, a quota system which requires
political parties to ensure that a given percentage of their candidates
are women, which enforces effective sanctions if the quotas are
not met, and which backs them up with a Democracy Diversity Fund
to support parties in finding, training and selecting good candidates
of both genders from all communities. This system should be subject
to review after each election, and, if there is evidence to suggest
that it is no longer necessary, abolished.
4.2 It is accepted that these proposals
will need further discussion and debate, and the variety of models
available (see below) means that much of the detail is deliberately
being left open so as not to inhibit this. However, it is also
the case that, if the principle is accepted, the space for the
debate on the detail will be created.
4.3 It is recognised that the UK already
uses one particular kind of quota system, and this is dealt with
in Section 5 of this submission, as well as being illustrated
in the charts in Para 2.2
4.4 The remainder of this section explains
the rationale for the proposal in Paragraph 4.1, drawing on the
experience of other countries as well as devolved institutions
in the UK.
4.5 In considering the record of other countries
in this area,
it is accepted that not all are comparable. Some are effectively
single-party states (eg, Cuba, on 43.2%) or have very different
social and political cultures from the UK (eg, Afghanistan where
27.7% of MPs are women). In some casesfor instance Rwanda
(56.3%), Angola (37.3%) and South Africa (33%) significant constitutional
change or civil wars created clear space in which to develop new
democratic institutions. Even in Europe, many countries had to
re-invent their democratic institutions after the Second World
War or, in the case of countries such as Spain (36.3%),
Portugal (28.3%), and Bulgaria (21.7%) after the removal of single-party
4.6 In the UK, the opportunity to create
new institutions was offered by Scottish and Welsh devolution,
and, to a lesser extent, by the Northern Irish settlement.
4.7 In a number of quarters, there was a
demand for these new institutions to be inclusive rather than
exclusive, and although none of them produced a blueprint for
the delivery of equality objectives, it was accepted on all sidesto
varying degreesthat there was a collective responsibility
for achieving them.
4.8 The table below shows the percentage
of women members for each of the main relevant parties in devolved
institutions in the UK.
|* Includes Independents and smaller parties not listed.
|** 2 largest parties only.
4.9 The effect of the actions of those parties which
took positive steps to increase the representation of women is
clear. Famously, Wales was the first legislature in the world
to have 50% women members in 2003.
4.10 Internationally, a variety of different approaches
has been taken, but a common feature is the use of quota or other
systems to ensure the election of women in those countries with
(relatively) high levels of women MPs.
4.11 Of the 24 countries in which women's representation
in the national parliament was at or over 30%, the majority employ
quota systems in one form or another, and even in the Scandinavian
countries, where quotas have been highly contentious (and are
further discussed below), they have played a part in increasing
the numbers of women, with the result that Sweden (currently at
47%) looks as though it will be the first European country to
4.12 In all, 97 out of 189 countries employ
one or more of the various forms of quota available (see below).
Some use more than one, and several use different types of quota
for different kinds of election.
4.13 There are three basic types of quota:
Constitutionalin which the requirement for
there to be a certain percentage of women in the legislature is
part of the constitutional arrangements.
Electoralin which the electoral laws of the
country require quotas to be implemented. This is the type of
quota system which CFWD is proposing should be adopted in the
Partyin which some or all of the political
parties in the country voluntarily apply some form of positive
action or quota requirements. This is the type of quota system
currently in use in the UK, and has the drawback of leaving the
burden of creating actual improvements on the shoulders of a small
number of parties.
4.14 In some countries, both the first and second kind
are used, with the provisions of electoral law being consequential
to the constitutional arrangements. In addition, the ways in which
quotas are set, implemented and enforced varies greatly, with
each country setting up whatever system will suit its requirements
4.15 The Nordic countries Sweden (47%), Denmark (38%),
Norway (36.1%) and Iceland (33.3%), together with Finland on 41.5%
are the most obviously successful and comparable group of countries.
They have stable political systems and their democratic and party
structures are not dissimilar to the UK's.
4.16 Of these countries, Sweden, Norway and Iceland all
use party quotasin Norway most of the parties have a 40%
quota, in Sweden the centre left parties have a 50% quota, whilst
the centre right parties used quotas in the 1970s, '80s and '90s,
but do not use them now. In Iceland the three centre left parties
(which between them have about half of MPs) all use quotas.
4.17 In Denmark, on the other hand, quotas were used
until 1996, when they were abandoned. In 1997 33% of Danish
MPs were women, in 2001 the figure had risen to 37.4% and
it currently stands at 38%. There has been much debate about this,
particularly in academic circles, and although there is not space
to rehearse these here, the quote below from Professor Drude Dahlerup
of Stockholm University (Para 4.25) suggests lines of thought.
4.18 Finland has no quota system for parliament or for
local councils, but the Act of Equality of 2000 requires
all public committees, and all municipal bodies (other than councils)
to have a minimum of 40% of both men and women. It is worth noting
here that Finland's very high standing in the world's ranking
is historicalin 1906, 12 years before British women
were granted even a limited parliamentary franchise, 16 Finnish
women MPs were elected.
4.19 In the remaining European countries with 30% or
more women MPs:
the centre left parties in the Netherlands (41.3%)
Spain (36.3%) has both electoral law (the Equality
Law of 2007 introduced the "principle of balanced presence"
into electoral law, and party lists which do not comply with its
requirements are ruled out by the Electoral Commission)
Belgium (35.3%) has an electoral law (2002) which
requires party lists to be composed of equal numbers of women
and men, with places not so filled left vacant
Both of the main parties in Germany (32.2%) operate
4.20 It might be argued that, given that a number of
European countries have managed to increase women's representation
using party rather than electoral quotas, the situation in the
UK should be left unchanged. However, the Westminster parliament
is now so far behind similar legislatures with which it ought
to be comparable that it will be impossible for significant progress
to be made unless all parties are made equally responsible for
4.21 Constitutional quotas are not generally found in
Europe, and are more likely to be in operation in countries which
have recently-written constitutions, or where the severity of
the problem is agreed to warrant such a step.
4.22 There are currently 15 countries using constitutional
quotas, 44 using electoral law quotas, and 169 political
parties in 69 countries (including the UK) using party quotas.
In total, 97 countries (out of 189) use either one or a combination
of quota types (see Appendix 3 for a breakdown).
4.23 In many cases, quotas are used in conjunction with
proportional representation in one form or another, and, indeed,
first-past-the-post is probably the most difficult electoral system
to make work with quotas. This submission does not specifically
argue for electoral reform, but notes that there is a strong case
for it to be considered, and anticipates that this case will be
made very effectively by other submissions.
4.24 It is clear from even this very brief overview that
quotas are not a panacea for the ills of under-representation,
but on the other hand it is a fact that, of the 24 countries
in which 30% or more MPs are women, 20 use quotas of one
kind or another, whilst of the 53 countries where women constitute
10% or under of MPs only 11 use quotas.
Moreover, in some of these 11 the quota is very low (eg Jordan,
where it is 6 seats or 5%); in others the sanctions are either
weak or non-existent; and in others still only very small parties,
or parties with no MPs have quota systems.
4.25 However, it is also the case that none of the Nordic
countries have strong sanctions either, and yet they are all well
up the list. This quote from Professor Drude Dahlerup of Stockholm
University provides some food for thought as to why this might
"In a system with almost no institutionalized sanctions,
not even in the political parties themselves, for non-compliance
with quota rules, the question is what the incentives have been
for the local branches to comply with the centrally imposed quota
rules? Our investigations show that it is not the sanctions by
the central party organization that make the local party organizations
comply with the quota rules. Rather, parties have gradually nominated
more women because they fear the sanction of the voters, especially
the female voters, if they do not have a sufficient number of
women among their candidates. However, what is considered a sufficient
share of women has gradually increased in the Nordic countries
from just one woman in the 1940s-60s, to one third in the 1970s
and 1980s, to a new demand for de facto gender balance, notably
in Sweden and Norway today."
5. THE POLITICAL
5.1 The three main political partiesConservative,
Labour and Liberal Democratare at the heart of creating
change in the political system. The degree to which these three
institutions are either committed to change, or capable of delivering
it within their structures, is therefore key to increasing the
diversity of the House of Commons.
5.2 Over recent years they have taken a variety of approaches
to the challenge of increasing women candidates and MPs
5.3 The Labour Party have used all-women shortlists (as
well as twinning and zipping systems in Scotland and Wales). These
have been relatively successful in raising the level of women's
5.4 The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have
used various schemes providing encouragement, support and training,
although both have rejected positive action as used by Labour.
The Conservative Party has made changes to its procedures for
this round of selections which have resulted in more women being
selected in winnable seats. The Liberal Democrats have invested
heavily in training and support, and this has also been rewarded
with some success.
5.5 However, despite this, the Electoral Reform Society
show that there is now very little possibility of improving matters
in any significant way at the next General Election. The concentration
of women candidates and MPs in marginal seats for all parties
means that each party's electoral fortunes has a very direct effect
women's representation for each party, but hardly any overall,
and it does seem that even the most optimistic (in gender terms)
of realistic projections would only produce a very marginal increase.
5.6 Whatever the outcome of the Speaker's Conference,
it is likely that political parties will remain committed to the
principle of increasing the numbers of women MPs; the question
is whether or not they will be able to achieve it without external
motivation and support.
5.7 Both the parties, and the women's organisations connected
with (but not run by) them (Women2win, Labour Women's Network,
and the Gender Balance Campaign respectively), as well as a number
of other external bodies concerned with issues around women's
representation already provide training and support for women,
and there is no reason why this should not continue. However,
the whole process is under-resourced, with funding for candidate
training and diversity competing with funds for other purposes.
5.8 It is directly in the public interest for the quality
of talent-spotting, training, development and mentoring by the
parties to be as high as possible, and this applies to all candidates,
not just to women.
5.9 It does not seem reasonable to leave voluntary organisations
effectively responsible for the quality of MPs without providing
some support, particularly if quotas are to be introduced.
5.10 It is therefore proposed that a Democracy Diversity
Fund be established, to be funded by government but administered
by the Electoral Commission. Political parties would be able to
apply to the fund for specific schemes relating to candidate development,
and the implementation and outcomes of such schemes would be monitored
by the Commission. Grants could be made on a matched funding basis,
and there could be a cap on the amount available to any individual
party across the period of a parliament. Parties participating
would be expected to meet certain criteria in terms of their commitment
to diversity of all kinds, and there might be an argument for
restricting grants to those parties securing a given percentage
of the vote at a General Electionthis would prevent small
parties with no significant levels of support (and therefore unable
to influence the make-up of the House) from absorbing resources
without being able to produce the outcomes.
5.11 The direct involvement of the Electoral Commission
in this way would also enable the whole process to be monitored
effectively, both in terms of candidate selection and the rate
at which women are elected. The quota requirement should be abolished
once an acceptable (and previously agreed) level of representation
had been met, but the Democracy Diversity Fund should be continued
to as to ensure that parties are able to find, train and field
the best possible candidates from all communities and backgrounds.
Figures in this section relating to the numbers of women in the
House of Commons are drawn from statistics collated by the Centre
for the Advancement of Women in Politics at Queens University,
For table see Appendix 1. Back
See Appendix 2 for a full list. Back
Figures related to the representation of women across the world
and the use of quota systems are taken from the Inter-Parliamentary
and the Quota Project run by the International IDEA and the University
of Stockholm (www.quotaproject.org)
Kenya, India, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Malta, Armenia, Somalia, Algeria,
Albania, Jordan and Equatorial Guinea. Back
Drude Dahlerup, Women, Quotas and Politics 2006. Back
Electoral Reform Society, Gender Representation in the Next
Parliament, June 2008. Back