Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
If women make up more half of the population, then their equal representation in government positions is necessary to ensure that democracy functions as effectively as possible.
“Representation shapes policy,” Lyanne Nicholl, CEO of 50:50 Parliament told Byline Times. “We know that areas like childcare, pregnant women, domestic abuse and functioning safety wear for women healthcare workers, were all overlooked during the pandemic as a result of a ‘macho environment’ which excluded women’s voices.
“In addition, it’s hard to imagine issues like miscarriage, menopause and domestic abuse getting adequate attention without women MPs and ministers.”
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes believes we need more women to stand as MPs to bring “diversity of thought” and “diversity of experience” to British politics, to challenge the “male echo chamber”.
Without women in the room, “over half of the population can be deprioritised and ignored,” Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain told Byline Times.
But leading up to the next general election, new data from 50:50 Parliament, Centenary Action, and Chamber UK has found that fewer than 35% of candidate selections so far are women.
And although there are more than 30 million women and girls in the UK, only 225 women have seats in the House of Commons – meaning that there are twice as many men than women in the highest elected chamber in the country.
“This is glaring imbalance,” Nicholl said. “We urgently need to dial up the number of women that are in Parliament today.”
Why Are So Few Women in Parliament?
According to Nicholl, women are “definitely keen” to stand for positions in government, but they don’t apply due to several barriers.
“Some women will see Parliament as a closed door to a men’s club, or even as a fiery furnace,” she told Byline Times. “We must start taking steps to remedy this.
“We need to tackle several issues: the macho (and sometimes bullying and harassing) environment; financial barriers for women; a work environment which recognises and adapts for caring responsibilities; and online abuse.”
For Nokes, in addition to breaking down barriers, “we need to increase the visibility of women MPs” so they see “role models they can relate to”.
ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE? HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE
Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.
We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.
She has been vocal that she thinks many other women could do her job but that the “media intrusion, trolling on social media, and rowdiness of the chamber puts good people off”.
Chamberlain echoes this and believes women should also be offered training and support as they enter into politics so they feel protected coming into an unknown territory.
“There needs to be more proactive steps to show that Parliament is a good place to work,” she told Bylines Times. “That she will be safe and supported.”
‘I Won’t Take No for an Answer’
Undeterred by the barriers to entering politics, Olga Fitzroy is standing to be the Labour candidate for Croydon East (which has only ever elected one woman MP), hopeful to represent every single of her constituents – not just women – and bring about lasting change.
After having a baby in 2015, Fitzroy found it nearly impossible to return to work as a sound engineer due to “archaic restrictions around maternity allowance and lack of provision for fathers”.
The threat of nearly losing her career motivated her to become politically active and she founded the #Selfieleave campaign, which went to Parliament having galvanised trade union, cross-party politicians, and achieved celebrity support.
“This showed me how ordinary people can make a difference in politics and that we need a diversity of all sorts of different life-experiences in order to make good decisions,” Fitzroy told Byline Times.
She went on to co-found Pregnant Then Elected, participate in Jo Cox’s women in leadership course, and be awarded a grant by Labour MP Stella Creasy’s MotheRED programme which provides financial support for those with caring responsibilities.
Fitzroy said her campaigning background has made her a strong advocate who will knock on the door of government for resources and “not take no for an answer”.
Women like her are itching to serve their communities in politics, but many are nervous to put themselves forward due to apprehension and fear. It’s why Fitzroy, Nicholl, Nokes, Chamberlain, and many others are backing #AskHerToStand, a campaign encouraging people to put forward the names of women who are passionate about a cause.
“It’s about looking at women in communities who might have the right skillset, or are already making a difference in their community, and asking them to stand,” said Nicholl.
Through 50:50 Parliament, the women asked will receive support to make a decision if standing is for them.
The Diversity of Women’s Politics
But it’s not simply as easy as saying ‘we need more women in politics’.
Last week, another leading lady in the Conservative Party was sacked as Home Secretary, after Rishi Sunak faced mounting pressure to act against Suella Braverman.
Braverman forced the Illegal Migration Act through Parliament in record time, and pushed to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, as well as on a disease-ridden barge. To her critics, she has emboldened far-right, anti-immigration groups with her fear-mongering rhetoric.
Although she is a woman, her policy decisions have been harmful for people in need of her protection. Being a woman did not make her a politician who acts in the interest of the people under her care.
“It must be recognised that women, like men, have a wide range of political perspectives,” said Nicholl. “In a democracy, women have as much right to free speech as men. They have a right to voice opinions and feed into policy decisions.”
While we need this diverse group of women with differing views representing the constituents they mirror, we don’t just need ‘any woman’ in a position of leadership simply because she is a woman.
Do we need more women in politics? Yes, but we as voters need to make sure we are taking the time to not just select candidates because of their gender, but because of their beliefs, their characters, and their policies.