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Why are there so few women MPs in the UK Parilament?

(19 Posts)
vesuvia Thu 30-Oct-14 14:48:36

According to today's BBC Radio "Woman's Hour" programme, there are currently more male MPs in the UK Parliament than there have been female MPs ever.

Why is the proportion of women MPs in the UK parliament lower than for the parliaments of 62 other countries? Is our relatively poor showing closely related to the local features of the way UK General Elections are conducted e.g. first past the post instead of proportional representation? Are British political women less interested in politics, less competent at serving their constituents or political leaders, less community-spirited, less dedicated, less able to find a good "work-life balance"? I don't think so. What's your opinion?

I'd like to understand better the reasons why progress in increasing the number of women MPs is so slow. When the Sex Discrimination Act became law in 1975, women were only 4 per cent of UK MPs. Now the percentage has increased to 23 per cent. Although women have come a long way, I hope we can go much further. The 2015 UK General Election will be 9th since the Sex Discrimination Act was passed. It will be the 9th opportunity for the political landscape to include more women through political parties operating as so-called "meritocracies". In the absence of compulsory quotas for women, however, I think the past performance of British political parties gives little scope for much optimism for 2015.

Without some improvement in the opportunities for female candidates, I predict the 2015 election will continue the unofficial quota for men in British politics that has operated for far too long. Are all male MPs competent and there on merit? I doubt it. I hope some realistic, effective way can be found to get more women elected to parliament. I hope to see more women being selected by parties to contest winnable seats, by compulsory quotas for women, if necessary.

What do you think are the main barriers to women's participation in the UK parliament, and how do these barriers affect or account for the UK's poor ranking compared to many other countries?

What do you think are the pros and cons of official quotas for women in parliamentary elections?

maddy68 Thu 30-Oct-14 14:58:44

I think apart from the obvious discrimination that. Politics has had historically and currently I think it's also a difficult route for women to take. I say this as trying not to out myself a close family member is a female mp.
The hours and commitment required do not suit a woman if they want to be the primary care giver to children which many women want. They also cannot specify hours. They can be called upon 24/7 they have visitors to their homes at all sorts of hours of the night. It's not cohesive with a normal job and children
I personally don't think I could have juggled my family life like she did. She could only manage it with a huge amount of support and a nanny. Many women simply do not want that disorder in their family lives

HolofernesesHead Thu 30-Oct-14 15:03:52

Maddy, this is a genuine question: do men actually want that disorder in their family lives? Or do they just not see it / see it as their problem?

noblegiraffe Thu 30-Oct-14 15:11:06

Women are less likely to be selected to respresent a constituency, and where they are selected, it's more likely to be in an unwinnable seat. It's not a supply problem, but a selection problem, which is why the only real solution is all-women shortlists in winnable seats.

maddy68 Thu 30-Oct-14 15:26:58

I know in my relatives case she had full support of her husband and family and colleagues because she was willing to hand over her parental responsibility to her husband and her nanny while she maintained her career. Something men have managed to do for centuries .
I think that career itself is difficult for both men and women, but more so if the mother wants to play an active role in their child's upbringing.
The only way that the balance will change (in my opinion) is to make the working hours more 'normal' and make mps (and the various stages before that councillors) etc more family friendly

grimbletart Thu 30-Oct-14 16:51:18

I see it a bit similar to what happened in World War II. The men were away fighting so lots of jobs from building aircraft to manning ack ack guns and lumberjacking had to be done by women. But as soon as the blokes got back from the war, women were expected to down tools, get their aprons on and be good little girls at home again so the men could have jobs.

The similarity is that if a woman is very very good or if there is no competition on selection, selection panels will choose a woman. But if there are blokes to choose from there is a big sigh of relief that they can choose a bloke (and get an unpaid smiler and fete opener free if he's married).

It's only natural ain't it? sad

vesuvia Sat 01-Nov-14 01:12:00

Thanks for the replies.

maddy68 - "The hours and commitment required do not suit a woman if they want to be the primary care giver to children which many women want."

More childcare-friendly hours would greatly help MPs who are mothers. It's not an easy thing to change because most MPs are not mothers, and many of them will not treat it seriously.

noblegiraffe wrote - "the only real solution is all-women shortlists in winnable seats."

I agree with you. Do you think all-women shortlists would be enough, or do you see it as only the first step, to be followed by other measures?

grimbletart wrote - "if a woman is very very good or if there is no competition on selection, selection panels will choose a woman. But if there are blokes to choose from there is a big sigh of relief that they can choose a bloke"

Does this indicate that you would be in favour of all-women shortlists for candidate selection?

wasabipeanut Sat 01-Nov-14 08:48:35

I've got some indirect experience here although only of the Conservative party selection process as my mother used to be a Cons councillor. It is worth stating the horrendous discrimination involved in their processes. My mother watched as an incredibly capable fellow female councillor was passed over for selection against an incredibly average man when the sitting make MP retired. The stereotypes of old dears wanting husbands for their daughters is alive and kicking in the Tories.

Also, a young man who used to work for me was heavily involved in the Tory Women2Win group. In his view the problems were partly practical (incompatibility with normal family life being key) but mainly due to women simply lacking the confidence to put themselves forward. I'm not convinced it's as simple as that but I do accept that confidence is certainly part of the equation.

MyEmpireOfDirt Sat 01-Nov-14 09:01:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Squidstirfry Sun 02-Nov-14 15:02:01

It's such a boys club, they all went to the same boys schools, had the same male teachers. MP's literally all know each other from various clubs etc etc. There is an entrenched 'otherness' about women.

P.R. would really help. The current voting system is entirely ineffective when it comes to changing anything.

You could also try posting this in the 'politics' section, there are some outspoken and knowledgeable types there who may have insight....

vesuvia Sun 02-Nov-14 16:46:26

MyEmpireOfDirt wrote - "I think confidence probably is a factor. More men do have the self belief to put themselves forwards."

Yes. I think public schools, in particular, play an important role in creating that confidence and self belief. In this aspect, I suppose it's hardly surprising that half the current Cabinet went to Eton (if I recall correctly). That's in addition to the old boy network aspect of attending public school, of course.

vesuvia Sun 02-Nov-14 16:52:55

Squidstirfry wrote - "P.R. would really help."

Yes, I'm struck by the comparison between the number of women in the Scottish parliament (with PR) and the UK parliament (without PR).

Thanks for your suggestion about the politics section.

vesuvia Sun 02-Nov-14 17:23:06

wasabipeanut wrote - "the problems were partly practical (incompatibility with normal family life being key)"

I take your point about the family life problems, because we both know, in the world as it is, MPs who are mothers have more parental and family caring expectations placed upon them (as do mothers who are candidates, as they go through the selection process).

I think it's worth mentioning that having a family does not seem to be a barrier to being an MP. After all, the majority of MPs are parents and most of those parents are married fathers.* I am getting the impression that the family barrier is perhaps really about what constitutes a normal family life, especially childcare.

(*I read somewhere that most FTSE100 CEOs are fathers too).

maddy68 Sun 02-Nov-14 17:34:03

It's a fact though isn't it that many women choose to put their careers on hold in order to have a family. I know I did. I was at the top of my game in all fairness and gave it up when I had my children as I didn't want to not see them (I was working 6-7 days a week and long hours) it was a choice I made and I was the bigger salary earner so in all fairness it was nothing to do with sexism in my case it was my maternal instinct.
I'm guessing (educated guess) that this is a problem with many CEOs and MPs as well

EBearhug Sun 02-Nov-14 20:20:59

Of course men will have more confidence - everything is showing them that they stand far more chance of being selected if they put themselves forward. A woman who puts herself forward faces a far harder battle, even if she's very competent. Men's confidence would be lower if they had to go for it against those odds, too. As things currently stand, women need way more confidence and determination than men do to put themselves forward.

(I do also agree about the influence of public schools, too.)

There is the 50:50 campaign, if anyone wants to sign -

ToffeePenny Sun 02-Nov-14 22:13:23

I considered entering politics briefly when I was younger (public school had pushed it as a career option and given me far too much confidence in my abilities, I did well at the excellent debating societies there and again at university, was pretty active in local party affairs from age 15, and there is certainly enough good stuff still to be done in our country to keep someone nobly occupied) but my reasons for not pursuing it (in no particular order) were:

1 - how unlikely it would be for me to make it into cabinet (and so have the power to do much other than occasionally talk to a half empty house) given that I do not come from a political family and women are less common in cabinet anyway
2 - how much crap I would have to put up with if I did by some miracle make it to cabinet - not just the usual backstabbing that hits every minister but the media comments on my physical appearance, sexual history, and perceived ability in bringing up my family would have been truly demoralising.
3 - that I would have been held representative of women in politics and so I would have had to consider how my actions and words appeared in that context (I had this once or twice at debating society on 'women's issues' topics where I was the only woman speaking and it really impacted my ability to deliver a fluid argument - to this day I'm not sure how or why)
4 - Pay, for the amount of effort required and the likely hassle I'd receive, I would get more in a law firm or bank (which is where I now work)
5 - the fact that the parties are all the same for points 1-4 above and I would have no impact at all as an independent.
6 - lack of job security.

2 and 4 were probably the deciding factors. Childcare did not factor into my decision at all (as it did not for my current job which is also pretty family unfriendly) and putting children on hold for my career would have been true for almost any of the professions I considered.

Despite reason number 3 being on my list, I know that the reason I considered politics as a viable career option at all (her policies aside) was due to our PM at the time, Mrs Thatcher, illustrating that a woman could make it. I do therefore agree with all women short lists (and other under-represented groups short lists) until such time that we are as represented in parliament as we are in the population.

noblegiraffe Sun 02-Nov-14 22:50:01

Toffee your point 3 is called stereotype threat.

ToffeePenny Sun 02-Nov-14 23:41:28

Thanks giraffe that's interesting, and not something I'd read about before. I agree with the theory that being told 'people in your position and matching your profile are less likely to do x/ be more likely to fail at y' would impact someone's performance negatively.

My egomaniacal concern was more that with one slip up I would end up being the example x or y and I would be produced as representative of all female MPs (thus 'harming the cause') rather than being allowed to fail for myself alone.

It seems related to the article but perhaps it is just a normal fear of failure?

redwarf Thu 06-Nov-14 08:30:34

I had a friend that was a big labour activist and once wanted to be put forward as a councillor. Her experience was that men were more likely to be put forward for the winnable seats and when women were selected how photogenic they were was an actual consideration. Considering labour is the more progressive of the main parties (dread to think what UKIP policy is) its surprising that we have any female mps.

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