Women in Westminster

by Erminia Blackden

The 21st century has given rise to more women in politics than ever. Within Parliament female MPs now make up nearly 30% of seats, including Maidenhead, whose Member of Parliament is Theresa May. However, when we break down female representation across UK parties, the picture for May’s Conservative party is quite a depressing one, fielding the second lowest percentage of women in the election at only 28%. This is made all the more depressing by the fact that the rosette for the lowest representation goes to UKIP at 13%.

We need women in Parliament to champion women’s issues, but some will argue that women are just as diverse in their views as men, and therefore don’t need special attention. The diversity point is true, but it’s also true that men and women are different. Anthropologically and neurologically men and women experience life differently and are programmed to want different things from it.

Politically, this manifests itself as divergence in the gender vote which is not peculiar to the UK, but a phenomenon which is documented worldwide. In the USA presidential election last year, more women voted Democrat than Republican, following a trend which has been evident for years. In the 2015 UK general election, the majority of votes cast for Labour were cast by women, the majority of UKIP votes by men, whilst votes cast for the Conservatives were pretty much equal by gender. So, there is a definite pattern emerging.

As humans, we are motivated by the issues that affect us. Research carried out by YouGov suggests that women are moved by issues such as domestic violence, the gender pay gap, state provision for childcare, representation in parliament and smashing the glass ceiling. Although they may undoubtedly be sympathetic to these causes, there is no evidence to suggest that these issues are topping the agenda for male voters, or the politicians that represent them. And therein lies the problem.

Despite the recent surge in female representation in Parliament, the benches are still bowing from the weight of male bottoms. Men, who will by and large see things through a male lens.

The arrival of women seems to be tolerated but not always respected not just by politicians, but by the media at large. The proof points are too numerous and depressing to list here in their entirety, but personal favourite anti female faux pas’ include David Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ jibe at Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Angela Eagle, Piers Morgan referring to female anti Trump campaigners as ‘rabid feminists’, and ‘the Daily Mail’s ‘Never Mind Brexit, Who Won Legs-it’ front page.

These are all examples of institutionalised sexism which further support some of the more startling findings in our 21st Century Woman Study. In 2016:

  • 76% of UK women believe that gender inequality still exists
  • 75% believe that we are still living in a man’s world
  • 93% believe that men and women are judged by different standards

At the current rate of change, we are potentially several generations away from seeing Parliament deliver significant and meaningful changes to women’s lives. Women want change, that’s a given, but with Theresa May predicted to win a significant majority in the General Election on June 8th further increasing Parliament’s male bias, maybe we will have to wait a little longer than we thought.