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Women and mums in politics - Mumsnet campaign

“If mums don’t have a seat at the table, then the issues that affect them will continue to be overlooked by the men in charge.”

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Feb 17, 2023

We’ve not been shy over the years in highlighting what our users think about the "ruthless, rich and male" nature of UK politics, and how misogyny and sexism put women off from getting involved.

And the pandemic shone a light on just what happens when decisions are made without enough women in the room -  confusion over vaccinations for pregnant women, the rules that forced new mums to give birth alone, the way self-employment support discriminated against mothers, the fact that women were more likely to be furloughed or made redundant, and the burden of childcare falling disproportionately on women when schools and nurseries were closed. When we surveyed users in 2021, 79% agreed more female representation at top levels of government would have meant women’s needs were taken into account during the pandemic. 

Despite this, only 7%  of the mums we surveyed would ever consider standing for election at any level.  In fact, nearly half of you agreed that you would rather “give birth again without drugs” than get involved in politics in any way.

We’re on a mission to change this - because we know that the only way to make things work better for women is by making sure women have a seat at the table and a voice at every level where decisions are taken.

Local Elections 2022

An analysis by the Times in 2022 found that only 34% of the 21,000 candidates standing in Britain were women, with the top five most common candidate names in Thursday's English, Scottish & Welsh local elections being:

  1. David (497)
  2. John (486)
  3. Paul (334)
  4. Peter (276)
  5. Andrew (242)

And there being no woman’s name until Sarah at number 17 (126).

It also found that there were twice as many candidates over 40 as under 40. 

Getting Involved

There are many organisations set up specifically to encourage and support women into politics. You don’t need to have a political party in mind to get involved:

Elect Her - “The team at Elect Her are here to equip you with the knowledge, confidence, and skills you need to stand for political office. We work across the political spectrum, and welcome women from all backgrounds and beliefs, representing all parties and none. Representation is important.”

50:50 Parliament - “50:50 empowers, equips and enables women to get involved in politics by drawing on diverse talent, shared experiences, friendly conversation and connections. We are an inclusive, intersectional campaign taking action to build a better democracy by inspiring, encouraging and supporting women with our #AskHerToStand and #SignUpToStand programmes”.

The Activate Fund - "We’re on a mission to get brilliant women the funding they need to stand for election, and win. Together, we’ll turn the community activists of today into the political leaders of tomorrow."

Centenary Action - "We fight for an equal and representative democracy where women are directly involved in the decisions that affect their lives without discrimination, prejudice, or fear of violence and harassment."

For the local level - the Local Government Association (LGA) has produced a toolkit aimed at helping those who have other responsibilities, such as looking after children, caring for an older relative or who want to start a family, to be councillors and represent their communities.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC), which represents local (parish and town) councils, has a #MakeAChange campaign that includes shining a spotlight on underrepresented councillors to encourage people from all backgrounds and experiences to put themselves forward for election.

Many political parties have specific organisations dedicated to improving female representation.  You can get in touch with them to find out more about getting involved:

Conservatives - Women2Win - “Women2Win aims to increase the number of Conservative women in Parliament and in public life and is committed to identifying, training and mentoring female candidates for office”.

Labour - Labour Women’s Network - “LWN was founded more than thirty years ago to secure women’s equality in the Labour Party.  We train and empower women to change the culture of their local parties, stand for public office and be ready to lead.  We fight sexism and discrimination and campaign for necessary changes in Labour’s policy, practice and culture.”

Liberal Democrats - Liberal Democrat Women - "This group aims to encourage greater representation of women in elected roles and in society at large. It highlights policy areas which particularly affect women and ways to campaign for change."   

The Green Party of England and Wales - Green Party Women - "Our aim is to help women to do green politics better.  Networking, training and help with funding to attend Conference, or other events, where lack of childcare or transport costs are a barrier."

Plaid Cymru - Merched Plaid - "In the age of #metoo, gender pay gaps and institutionalised discrimination, Merched Plaid provides a safe space for women to share, discuss and actively work on issues that are important to them whilst also encouraging the party to take action on these issues.  It also seeks to promote greater representation of women within the political field, and campaigns to see a fair, equal, and inclusive Wales."

The longer you stay… 

The unique difficulties of being a woman in politics - such as the lack of family-friendly policies and the extra level of abuse and harassment (especially for black women politicians) means women don’t last as long. 

When concerns were raised in 2019 about the number of female MPs stepping down at that year’s election, some pointed out that it was proportionate to the number of male MPs standing down. And that’s true - but the difference was that the women standing down were younger and closer to the start of their careers, whereas the men leaving were closer to the age of retirement. A BBC analysis found that the average length of service for the Conservative male MPs stepping down was almost 18 years, compared to 9 and a half for the female MPs stepping down. And those women were citing abuse - such as daily death and rape threats - as a key reason. 

The local level tells a similar story: the average length of service for female councillors is 7.5 years, compared to 10.2 years for male councillors. And unsurprisingly, the further up the ladder you go, the fewer women there are. Although 35% of councillors are women, analysis from 2018 revealed that only 28% of the leaders of councils were women, and that only 20% of the leaders of parties/groups in local councils were women. 

Representation matters

And we’ve seen all of this reflected in our own research and surveys. Earlier this year, we asked users about politics - and 83% wanted to see more diversity among political figures and 79% thought more women at the top would have made the government response to the pandemic take women into account more. But despite a high level of political interest (88%), only 7% would ever consider standing for election at any level, with issues like public scrutiny, misogyny, and the incompatibility of politics with family life coming out as top reasons. Nearly half of you agreed that you would rather “give birth again without drugs” than get involved in politics in any way.

And without women in key roles - the issues that affect women and that would enable women to get into these positions are ignored. Fawcett Society found in 2019 that just 20 councils (8%) have a maternity policy in place for their senior cabinet-level councillors. Only 7% of councils have a maternity policy in place that covers ordinary councillor roles. 

And of course power doesn’t just lie with politicians. Business leaders yield an enormous amount of political and economic power. And - sigh - representation is no better in this field. Check out this photo from the Munich Security conference 2022. 

Best wellies
Photo by Michael Bröcker 

We had to wait until women had their foot in the door before we saw life-changing laws for women - such as abortion rights, domestic violence laws, equal pay, criminalising marital rape, and things like the simple right to have a bank account (which women didn’t have in the UK until - wait for it - 1975). 

Political parties must take action to empower more mums to get involved at every level.  We simply cannot afford to ignore the views, experiences and talents of such a significant proportion of the population.

“You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.” ― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

Our work and campaigns 

  • Keep council meetings accessible campaign
  • Family friendly parliament survey
  • Female MPs survey
  • "Ambitious, connected, ruthless, rich and male" - Mumsnet users on politics in the UK survey

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