One simple change could take us much closer to gender equality in politics

Jessica Garland, Director of Policy and Research

Posted on the 4th April 2018

There can be no doubt that in order to see more women elected to our political institutions, political parties need to stand more women candidates.

Yet there is no official information on the diversity of those standing for election at any level of government.

We know that while women register to vote, and vote, in equal numbers to men, when it comes to standing for election, the playing field is not equal. Knowing who is standing, and where, is the first stage to improving things.

Equality legislation already exists which would make this information transparent. Section 106 of the Equality Act (2010) requires political parties to publish diversity data on candidates standing in elections to the House of Commons and devolved administrations. The problem is that the government has yet to enact it.

The Women and Equalities Committee’s 2017 report on women in the House of Commons urged the government to bring Section 106 of the Equality Act into force and give the Electoral Commission powers to collect and host this information.

The government has responded – citing a concern for burdening political parties. Yet surely political parties are best placed to know who they are standing in elections. And if they are committed to improving the diversity of their elected representatives, they would surely want to know.

Since 2010, the government has committed to open and transparent government, believing that open data and transparency can improve accountability and outcomes in the public sector. So it seems incongruous that on the issue of candidate diversity, open data is not seen as a possible source of improved results.

We have just submitted a proposal to the Open Government Network’s data consultation, calling for the enactment of Section 106 of the Equality Act. It is a small but important step towards improving the diversity of our political institutions.

We have also called for this important legislation to be extended to cover local elections and combined authority mayoral elections. With women making up only 33% of local councillors, only four out of 16 elected mayors, and no directly-elected metro-mayors, the issue of women’s representation extends well beyond the national level. We also want to see a duty on councils to publish this information.

To improve accountability, and act as a source of pressure to improve, transparency about the diversity of candidates is essential. The Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation back in 2010 called for it, Westminster’s Women and Equalities Committee have called for it, and campaigners are calling for it.

The legislation is ready to go – now it is time for the government to deliver on its own commitments.

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