There’s an easy way to tackle the ‘political gender gap’ – what’s the government waiting for?

Jessica Garland, Director of Policy and Research

Posted on the 2nd July 2018

It’s no news that British politics has a big problem with gender diversity. Just a third of MPs and councillors are women.

Established prejudices need challenging, social media trolls need stopping and there must be strong action on this issue from the leaders of each of the major parties.

There is also one specific measure which would help bridge the gap.

Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 states that parties must publish the demographic makeup of their election candidates.

Having this information readily available would fill what is currently an information vacuum. It would allow effective monitoring of the current situation and shine a light on where progress is required.

Crucially, it would increase the accountability of parties and their local parties up and down the country – creating positive competition.

#Section106 already appears on the statute book - but it has not been enacted, meaning that there is currently no obligation on parties to publish candidate data #TalkDemocracy. Click To Tweet

The question then is why, given that the government has taken a strong stance on the gender pay gap, is it reluctant to push ahead with this simple change?

The Women and Equalities Committee has already called for Section 106 to brought into force “immediately.”

But in its response to the committee’s recommendation, the government cited concerns about the “potential regulatory burden” of enacting the regulations.

It added it would “continue the process of engaging with the parties to ensure greater transparency … rather than imposing legislative requirements through section 106 of the Equality Act.”

This so-called “regulatory burden” appears to have been dreamt up by the government. Who could be better placed than parties themselves to provide information on their own candidates? Instead, campaigners are piecing the information together themselves.

This piecemeal approach to even knowing the scale of the problem puts us in poor stead for making positive changes. The onus should be on parties to come clean – not for campaigners to try and squeeze out crucial facts.

Given that this information could contribute to achieving greater women’s representation in politics, is it not worth the minimal work which would be required?

This is an important week to think about these issues. Today marks the 90th anniversary of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act which gave women the same voting rights as men. To coincide with this occasion, the government is running its inaugural National Democracy Week.

Ministers’ public messages are strong on gender equality, but questions must be asked about their commitment to actual action given the failure to enact this simple piece of legislation.

Like the pay gap, the political gender gap is holding back progress. The government should mark the 90th anniversary of equal voting rights by committing itself to bridge that gap and laying the foundations by bringing Section 106 into force.

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