Time is running out in this Centenary year – why are the government waiting to tackle the ‘political gender gap’?

Jessica Garland, Director of Policy and Research

Posted on the 14th December 2018

In November, the Electoral Reform Society helped coordinate an unprecedented coalition of campaigners and politicians in calling for government action on the ‘political gender gap’. Marking the centenary of women’s right to stand for Parliament, the ERS and other campaigners called for 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.

The policy that would enable candidate diversity reporting is already in law – it just hasn’t been implemented. Here, the Centenary Action Group (including ERS) call for Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt to enact S106 of the Equality Act at last.

Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP
Minister for Women and Equalities
Government Equalities Office

14th December 2018

Dear Minister,

As the centenary of women’s partial suffrage draws to a close we are writing to you as the Centenary Action Group to recognise the millions that have campaigned this year in support of gender equality, and to highlight the huge gap that still exists before we can truly achieve women’s equal political participation.

One hundred years since the first women in the UK got the vote, less than one-third of MPs are women. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women are chronically underrepresented. Globally, women make up less than one-quarter of legislators.

Inspired by the suffragettes and suffragists, the Centenary Action Group has established itself as one of the UK’s largest coalitions of women’s rights activists and organisations. We have brought together over 100 activists, politicians and women’s rights organisations from across the UK. We have the support of all of the major UK political parties.

Together we have called on the UK government to use this Centenary year to deliver real change for women’s lives in the UK and around the world. Specifically:

  • To implement Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, requiring political parties to publish their candidate diversity data, and create a positive pressure for change
  • To end violence and harassment in the workplace through ensuring a mandatory preventative duty on employers in UK legislation and a progressive ILO Convention at the global level
  • To end online abuse and harassment through committing 1% of the new digital services tax to ending online abuse.

Millions of people from across the country have spoken out to call for action on these issues. In February alone, we reached over 9 million people to ask why they were #StillMarching for gender equality in 2018 and called for government action to support their efforts. And #StillMarching was used by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to express their support.

In March, 10,000 people called for global gender equality and an end to harassment and violence at work at the huge #March4Women event in Trafalgar Square. In June, we again took to the streets and, through our networks and membership, galvanised tens of thousands of women and women’s organisations from across the four nations to take part in Processions and remember the work of the suffragettes and suffragists to get women’s right to vote and a greater say in the political decisions that affect women’s lives.

In November, we all worked together to ensure that women outnumbered men at Westminster on #AskHerToStandDay when over 300 women were invited by MPs to consider standing for election. As a result, over one 100 have signed up to stand with 50:50 Parliament. Great initiatives such as #AskHerToStand have shown that there are fantastic women out there who are willing to step up to the plate, but there are numerous structural obstacles in the way of women who do put their names forward. That’s why over 30 MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cyrmu and the Greens have supported our #Enact106 campaign, which has received over 500 pieces of media coverage including the BBC, ITN, Grazia and Sky News.

Today marks one hundred years since women voted and stood for office in a general election for the first time. Women now register to vote and vote in roughly equal numbers to men but, at this rate, it will take another 50 years for our democratic institutions to reflect the people they serve. Do we really have to wait that long?

This year, we have had lots of great celebrations for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, many of these supported by the government centenary funds. This has resulted in a greater visibility of women’s history and an understanding of the link to their current experiences, Unfortunately, however, we have seen little government action to address the structural barriers that continue to stand in the way of women in politics.

There is so much more that could be done and as the year comes to an end the millions who have campaigned are asking what the legacy will be. We realise that this year has been an extraordinary time in politics due to ongoing Brexit negotiations dominating the political agenda, but it risks being a missed opportunity. This is why the next ten years are so crucial, and strong partnership between civil society, women MPs, male advocates, and government must be transformational in 2019.

We would like to repeat our request of 18th July 2018 to meet with you and discuss how we can ensure that this year’s suffrage centenary celebrations are not a flash in the pan, but the start of a decade of action until the anniversary of full suffrage in 2028.

We look forward to hearing from you and making this happen.

Yours sincerely,
Centenary Action Group

The Electoral Reform Society is a member of the Centenary Action Group.

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