Unprecedented coalition demands parties reveal ‘diversity deficit’ on centenary of women winning right to stand as MPs

Posted on the 21st November 2018

Conservatives’ Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP and Labour’s Dawn Butler join forces with Fawcett Society, ERS, Women’s Aid, Dr Helen Pankhurst and more, urging Equalities Minister to implement Section 106 of the Equality Act. 

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society and the Centenary Action Group, for immediate release, 21st November 2018.

An unprecedented coalition of campaigners and politicians are calling on the government to take action on the ‘political gender gap’ to mark the centenary of women’s right to stand for Parliament this Wednesday.

Senior politicians across all the major British parties – including Treasury select committee chair Nicky Morgan MP, Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler, Caroline Lucas MP, as well as SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs – are urging the government to enact a part of the Equality Act that would ensure parties reported their ‘gender gap’ among election candidates [1].

In a separate letter, organisations and individuals including Dr Helen Pankhurst (Centenary Action Group), the Fawcett Society, Women’s Aid and the Electoral Reform Society are urging Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt to implement Section 106 – #Enact106.

The simple change would require parties to publish the demographic makeup of their election candidates, as the first step towards tackling the gender gap in politics and to improve diversity.

Currently just a third of MPs and councillors are women, with BME and disabled voters ‘severely under-represented’ too.

The campaigners and politicians argue if we don’t know where we stand in terms of candidate diversity, further progress on the diversity deficit will be extremely difficult.

The government have argued it would be too ‘burdensome’ for parties to implement S106 – but many already collect the data internally. Moreover, earlier this year large companies were obliged to publish their gender pay gaps – a policy not viewed as overly onerous.

The call comes as more than 200 MPs including Cabinet Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and senior Liberal Democrats have invited a woman to Parliament to #AskHerToStand.

In an op ed for The Times on Wednesday, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP writes: “It appears in the economic sphere we might finally be on the long-road to achieving fair pay. But for this to last – and to reduce discrimination in all walks of life – there must be political progress too.

“It would be a fitting way to make the centenary year of some women’s right to vote for this simple change to be made. In fact, it is the least we could do.

In an op ed for LabourList on Wednesday, Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler writes: “Less than a third of current MPs are women, despite the fact there are more women in the UK than men. Action is needed right now.

“Labour is ready to work on a cross-party basis to ensure the implementation of Section 106. The time is now for the Conservatives to work with us to finally implement it. Let this be a small but important landmark in the path to real equality.”

Dr Helen Pankhurst, Convener of the Centenary Action Group, said: “There is cross-party backing to close the political gender gap – now let’s do this together. The political will for opening up about diversity is there. The lesson from the gender pay gap reporting is that far from being a burden, this kind of transparency brings out best practice and can raise the status of women across the board.

“Making this simple, easy change would be a fitting legacy on the centenary of women’s right to stand for politics. To make progress, we need to know where we stand.

“My great grandmother Emmeline Pankhurst and the thousands of other women who campaigned to get us the vote would not be satisfied with the representation gap that remains –  but they would be encouraged by the momentum for change. The institutions of power still do not reflect the British public, but enacting S106 can help to change that. Now is the time for deeds that revitalise our democracy. We cannot wait another 100 years.”

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Research and Policy at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “The UK lags behind dozens of nations when it comes to gender equality in politics. Before we know how to improve the situation though, we need to know exactly where the problems are.

“Since this year, businesses have to be open about their gender pay gaps. Parties told them to open up. Yet political parties get off scot free when it comes to publishing data on gender diversity. Publishing candidate diversity data would be a small but crucial step in the right direction.

“It’s already on the statute books – the government should use this rare issue of consensus and implement it.”

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Women in Leadership, said: “For those who say women should be grateful for the progress made thus far – I say that is nonsense. This is not about waiting our turn: it is about our rights as citizens of this country and as human beings.

“We can’t wait another 100 years until we reach gender parity in politics.”

Letter from cross-party MPs

Today we celebrate 100 years since women secured the right to stand for Parliament. 
A century since that Act however, women remain woefully underrepresented in politics. 
Less than a third of current MPs are women. In total, since 1918 there have been just 491 women MPs. 
No longer can we assume this problem will go away simply with time. We need to deal with the root causes.
To do that though, we need to know where we stand. We simply don’t have good figures of how many women are being put forward by parties in each election. Businesses now open up about gender pay gaps. It is time our parties opened up about the candidate gender gap. 
Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 would ensure parties do this. It is already law – the government has just not enacted it.
Ensuring publication of candidate diversity is such a simple measure, which could have a potentially game-changing impact. 
There is cross-party support for enacting section 106. Let’s mark the centenary of women securing the right to stand for election by making this change now. 

  1. Nicky Morgan MP (Con)
  2. Dawn Butler MP (Lab)
  3. Jo Swinson MP (Lib Dem)
  4. Caroline Lucas MP (Green)
  5. Liz Saville Roberts MP (Plaid Cymru)
  6. Sir Peter Bottomley MP (Con)
  7. Hannah Bardell MP (SNP)
  8. Tom Brake MP (Lib Dem)
  9. Preet Kaur Gill MP (Lab)
  10. Virendra Sharma MP (Lab)
  11. Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (Lab)

Letter from 20 leading equality groups, academics and campaigners

This week marks 100 years since the first women gained the right to stand for election to the House of Commons – a landmark in Britain’s democratic history.
Sadly, however, women continue to be desperately under-represented. The current number of 209 women MPs is the highest ever – but constitutes just 32% of our total elected representatives in the Commons.
In 100 years, there have been just 491 (including just 19 from Wales). That’s just 50 more than the number of men sitting in Parliament today. BME and disabled people are severely underrepresented. And the diversity deficit is even worse in local councils. This affects which issues are heard and which are ignored in the halls of power.
Part of the problem is that we still do not know how many women are being put forward for election by parties. Despite businesses now having to open up about their gender pay gaps, parties are failing to open up about the political gender and diversity gap across elections. 
Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 would require parties to publish such data. It is already on the statute book – it just hasn’t been brought to force by the Secretary of State. That’s despite calls from the Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Centenary Action Group.
To make progress towards equality, we first need to know where we stand. Making this one simple but important change is the least that government can do – and would be a fitting act to mark this centenary year.

  1. Dr Helen Pankhurst, Convener, Centenary Action Group
  2. Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society
  3. Jess Garland, Director of Research and Policy, Electoral Reform Society
  4. Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director. UK Women’s Budget Group
  5. Shaista Gohir OBE, Executive Director, Muslim Women’s Network UK
  6. Katie Ghose, Chief Executive, Women’s Aid Federation of England
  7. Baroness Anne Jenkin, Co-Founder, Women2Win
  8. Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Founder and Editor in Chief, Women in Leadership
  9. Elizabeth Donnelly, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Engineering Society
  10. Women’s March London
  11. Julie Siddiqi – Co-founder, Nisa-Nashim Jewish and Muslim Women’s Network
  12. Laura Marks – Co-founder, Nisa-Nashim Jewish and Muslim Women’s Network
  13. Catherine Anderson, Chief Executive, Jo Cox Foundation
  14. Helene Reardon Bond OBE, UK Gender Expert
  15. Seyi Akiwowo, Former Councillor and Activist
  16. Aisha Ali-Khan, Founder, Women United
  17. Matteo Bergamini, Chief Executive Officer, Shout Out UK
  18. Catherine Fookes, Director, Women’s Equality Network Wales
  19. Lee Chalmers, Founder & Director, The Parliament Project
  20. Dr Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender
  21. Bee Rowlatt, Chair, Mary on the Green Campaign


Notes to Editors

To arrange an interview, see contact details above. 

[1] Read the ERS’ briefing on S106: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/enacting-section-106-of-the-equality-act-2010/

Hundreds of people are writing to their MPs calling for parties to open up on their diversity gaps: https://action.electoral-reform.org.uk/page/33388/action/1

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