Campaigners call for removal of barriers to women's political participation

By agency reporter
January 17, 2018

A new coalition of campaigning charities, individuals and women and girls’ rights organisations has today (17 January 2017) issued a challenge to government and political parties to make the 2018 centenary of the first women’s votes in the UK a year for actively encouraging women’s political participation.

But they warn that unless government and parties set clear targets, adopt an action plan and act to remove barriers to women’s political participation, the centenary of women’s votes could be a “missed opportunity”,  and our politics will “fail to be relevant to women’s lives”.

Members of the newly-formed Centenary Action Group warn that the lack of action so far towards increasing women’s participation in politics suggests this year’s important anniversary, to highlight one hundred years since the vote was first granted to women in the UK, could fail to deliver any real change.

Nearly 30 leading organisations, MPs and activists have released a statement to coincide with the launch [see signatories below]:

“Increasing the number of women in Parliament is not only a matter of basic human rights and equality, but is also necessary at a time when voter participation is low, and politics is reaching a crisis of credibility.

“Women in politics face an extraordinary amount of abuse, especially on social media, partly because they speak up but also simply because they are women. This discourages women from participating in political debate.

“From the work undertaken towards women’s political participation the world over, there is clear evidence that the more diverse the decision makers are, the more widely power is spread – and the less room there is for abuse and discrimination. It also makes it more likely that decisions made will benefit everyone, including the most marginalised women and girls in the UK and beyond.

“Increasing women’s participation in politics is critical. It is a central tenet of the UN Global Goals (Goal 5). All countries are aiming for these goals, but most countries, including the UK, are still falling short. In the centenary year of women winning the right to vote, it’s time for action.”

Commenting on the launch of the group, Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “There is great emphasis on women coming forward to stand but what we won’t stand for is the adverse political system and culture they are walking into. Systems and culture have to change. Unless they do, we risk the 2018 centenary’s being a missed opportunity. Our system of politics is failing to be relevant to women’s lives, actively putting them off.

“We know now that sexual harassment is commonplace in local and national politics; we see sexist attitudes driving the way women are treated in the council chamber and in the House of Commons. Lack of entitlement to maternity or paternity leave, means our elected representatives are far from being offered a modern workplace.”

Helen Pankhurst, Advisor with CARE International and Great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, said: “In my work I see the need for more women in politics the world over. In the UK, the challenge is that one hundred years on, women are still facing intimidation and violence for wanting to be involved in politics, and to influence decisions that affect their lives. The elections in 2017 saw the worst abuse of women MPs and candidates on record. We cannot wait another hundred years for this to end!”

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: "For democracy in the UK to be effective, it needs political institutions which are representative of all its citizens. Currently, there are still too many barriers to women's political participation, from institutional sexism and misogyny to a lack of support within parties themselves.

“The fact that fewer than a third of Members of Parliament and councilors are women is holding back our progress. We need widescale reform of our political institutions to change that. The problems of under-representation stem from factors which can be fixed – if there is the will to change.

"Parties and politicians must urgently commit to removing barriers to participation. But more than that – they should be taking immediate action to ensure we have a truly representative democracy. In the centenary of the first votes for women, this is an opportunity that must not be missed."  

Girlguiding advocate Sophie, 20, said:  “The centenary year is really important to women and girls. As well as allowing us to celebrate the successes achieved in the past century for women’s democracy, we can use the anniversary to look at what still needs to be done to engage girls and women in politics.

“Girlguiding is calling for equal representation for women in politics and an improved political education system so girls and young women feel engaged in a key part of society. As an organisation, we work hard to engage all young women in politics, from our Girls Matter campaign to our voter registration push during the 2017 General Election.” 

Frances Scott of 50:50 Parliament, said: "One hundred years after women won the right to vote the lack of women at Westminster is a democratic disgrace. The fight for political equality continues.

“Men still outnumber women by more than 2:1 in Parliament, it can hardly claim to be a representative institution when the majority of the population is so under-represented.

“Only 12 extra women were elected to Westminster at the last election, at this rate it will take over 50 years for women to gain equal representation. This is too long to wait!

“If our Parliamentary systems and democratic processes are inaccessible or unattractive to women then they need to change. 50:50 is taking action to attract women to Westminster with our #AskHerToStand campaign. We hope that Parliament and the political parties will respond by welcoming women into the corridors of power and onto those green and red benches."

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society
Laurie Lee, CEO, CARE International
Frances Scott, 50:50 Parliament
Nikki van der Gaag, Director of Women's Rights & Gender Justice, Oxfam GB
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society
Julia Bentley, Chief Executive, Girlguiding UK
Lynne Stubbings, Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes
Amnesty International UK
Women for Refugee Women
Caroline Haworth, Chief Executive, Womankind Worldwide
Labour Women’s Network
Jess Phillips MP, Chair, Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party
Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader, Green Party
Liz Saville Roberts, Westminster Leader, Plaid Cymru
Angela Crawley MP, SNP Westminster Spokesperson on Equalities, Women and Children
ActionAid UK
Women’s March London
Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, UK Women’s Budget Group
Artichoke Trust
Professor Sarah Childs, Birkbeck, University of London
Dr Sumita Mukherjee, University of Bristol
Irene Cockroft, SuffrageArts 
Dr J Kay Richmond, Chairman, UK Programme Action Committee, Soroptimist International
Zero Tolerance
Talat Yaqoob, Chair, Women 50:50

* The Centenary Action Group has launched with the hashtag ‘#StillMarching’ on social media.

* Electoral Reform Society


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