Five reforms still needed to ensure women are fairly represented in politics

Electoral Reform Society
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Electoral Reform Society

Posted on the 6th February 2018

The Representation of the People Act 1918 was undoubtedly a significant step forward for women’s rights and democracy. 

It gave the to vote to around 8.5 million women previously disenfranchised and abolished almost all property restrictions on men. 

One hundred years later and both men and women UK residents aged 18 and over are entitled to cast their vote on polling day. 

While this is significant progress it is important to remember this is not the end of the journey. Women today still face many barriers which their male counterparts do not. And our democracy is far from being perfect. 

So what now needs to be done to ensure there is equality for men and women and that their voices are heard in Westminster? 

1 – A higher proportion of women politicians  

Currently, less than a third of MPs are women. In the Cabinet there are just ten women compared to 19 men. Since the 1918 Act there have been two women Prime Ministers compared to 17 men. 

Away from Westminster, all six elected Metro Mayors are men, and just 12% of Combined Authority representatives are women. All three London mayors have been men.  

Given the gender split in the UK is roughly 50:50, it is right that this should be reflected in positions of political power.  

2 – Tough measures to prevent the abuse of women in politics 

There are still those who feel women do not have the right to give their opinions on political issues and who respond by dishing out a barrage of abuse behind the cloak of anonymity afforded them by social media. 

Theresa May, speaking today, said: “It is online where some of the most troubling behaviour now occurs … As well as being places for empowering self-expression, online platforms can become places of intimidation and abuse … This squanders the opportunity new technology affords us to drive up political engagement, and can have the perverse effect of putting off participation from those who are not prepared to tolerate the levels of abuse which exist.”

3 – Proportional Representation (PR) 

Under the current First Past The Post voting system, seats do not match votes and millions of citizens are effectively being ignored. 

A different system is required to reflect the will of all people in the UK, including its women. 

PR requires parties to put forward candidates who can represent the entire country and should therefore result in an increase in the number of women MPs.

4 – Ending the big-donor culture 

Scandal after scandal has proven time and time again that those with the most money are able to exert the most influence over political parties in the UK. 

And across the UK, men earned 18.4% more than women in April 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

We have a situation where men are more often in senior political positions and it is more likely to be men pushing their agenda upon them.

5 – Votes at 16 

Regardless of gender, 16 and 17 year olds are currently not allowed to vote in General Elections. But in other votes across the UK they are. 

In Scotland they voted in the independence referendum and can vote in Assembly and council elections. These rights could soon be extended to 16 and 17 year olds in Wales.  

The Government at Westminster must extend this right to General Elections to end the existing imbalance between different countries.  

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