One hundred years ago

One hundred years ago, the Suffragettes won their battle and women were given the right to vote. Thirty-nine years ago, the first female Prime Minister was elected. One year ago, according to Prliament.uk , 208 female MPs were elected into the house of commons. These facts may seem like a basic component of a civilised society, however the fight for such a change in the British political landscape has been a difficult one with women across the country fighting for their voices to be heard. However, in the 21st century, women fail to exert an equal influence on House of Commons and this underrepresentation in parliament only serves as a reminder to the rest of the world at how far women still have to go until complete equality is reached in politics. Patriarchal domination, female stereotyping and outright discrimination have prevented women from exerting their influence on the nation. Caroline Lucas , the co-leader of the Green Party and female MP, argues that women in parliament have been routinely objectified, publicly belittled, criticised, mocked and held to high standards facing continued discrimination by the patriarchal political system we live amid. But while the gains made in women’s representation at Westminster are to be encouraged, women continue to be under-represented in every level of British politics. Women are more than half of the population but make up less than a third of MPs Reporters, politicians and academics have argued extensively about the underlying causes of this gender imbalance . Many suggesting it is the result of the deep-rooted parliamentary sexism in which women are discouraged by the idea of the commons being a realm of male influence and an ‘old boys club’ which engenders an unconscious bias that hinders promotion and fulfilment for the very women that wish to go into politics. Others suggest that the sheer nature of parliamentary life, with long, anti-social working hours put off women with strong maternal instincts. Contrastingly, many argue that equalisation in Parliament is rapidly occurring since 1992 and inevitably will be reached, discouraging the need to worry about such an issue. The British political system has altered over the past one hundred years with some arguing that Gender equality in politics would be the first step in altering society both economically and socially and amend the traditional sexist norms that often endure and define our lives . The issue of gender inequality, fuelled by the British political system raises several crucial fundamental questions this dissertation will explore in detail. Namely, the extent to which women have achieved significant political progress over the past century and why political gender equality has not been reached in our ‘egalitarian’ society. Yet most importantly questioning when gender inequality in politics will be a scandalous memory of the past. However, history will never change. A hundred years on from the epic battle of the suffragettes, the heart of our democracy, the institution that frames our modern laws and shapes them to suit modern day needs, feels, in terms of equality, the most backward place of all.

A crucial underlying question is precisely why it is important that Parliament should resemble the population in terms of gender. Often it is asserted that Parliament physically resembling the people – be it in terms of sex, race, class, sexuality, and disability – is an absolute egalitarian good in itself, although parties disagree on what measures they are prepared to take to achieve it, especially over positive discrimination. This is what is known as ‘descriptive representation’.
A deeper question, however, is whether representation is a question of minds as well as bodies. Do women MPs actually behave differently to men in Parliament, and represent women in a way that their male colleagues do not? This question – that of ‘substantive representation’ – continues to vex commentators and academics alike. If it can be demonstrated that women contribute something different beyond their simple presence – a less adversarial political style, a focus on legislation of especial interest to women such as child welfare and equal pay, or a greater willingness to bring their own gendered life experiences to bear in parliamentary debate – then the argument for gender equality in Parliament is considerably strengthened.

‘Deeds not words’ was the slogan adopted by the Suffragette campaign during the early 20th century whom felt compelled to take drastic action to coordinate change despite facing structural barriers through discrimination and male-controlled oppression. There heroic actions and resolve eventually won women the right to vote in 1918 yet remained limited to women over the age of 30 if they were occupiers or married to an occupier of a household, epitomising the relentless struggle for women’s rights. Another 10 years of perseverance, resilience and fortitude would follow until all women in the United Kingdom were given the same voting rights as their male counterparts. Thanks to the suffragettes, Nancy Astor, became the first women to take her seat in Parliament in December 1919, elected as a Conservative for the Plymouth Sutton constituency. Though she had never been directly involved in campaigns for women’s suffrage, she was an inordinate supporter of the women’s movement once in Parliament and symbolised the first step in the right direction for female equality. The remarkable actions of brave women such as Emeline Pankhurst changed the course of history and helped women fight against the patriarchal political domination that had clouded women’s right to be heard and most importantly, listened to. Pankhurst famously said ‘Women had always fought for men, and for their children. Now they were ready to fight for their own human rights. Our militant movement was established.’ Justifying their militant techniques because often violence was the only language men listened to. Over a century ago, the Suffragettes chained themselves to the railings of Downing street, suffered severe brutality and sexual assault from the police force, underwent hunger strike and week- long political protest so that their children and our children can live in a society where men and women are considered equal on a social, economic and political basis. Notwithstanding evidential progress this essay will explore, the British political system has continually and systematically prohibited women from exerting their full political potential suggesting the need for a suffragette movement today is more necessary than ever before. Helen Pankhurst Great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, highlights the continued struggle for equality stating, ‘As a modern-day suffragette, I feel that the issue of voice and representation in all spheres – but particularly in the political one – remains top of the list.’ Further reinforcing that the suffragettes fight for equality is far from over and should be made a current social priority.
The Labour Government, July 1945 to October 1951, saw just four women ministers in parliament in contrast to the Labour Governments of May 1997 to May 2010 in which just under 70 ministers were women. This statistical evidence does prove that women have made significant progress in parliament however in contrast to the ….. of male ministers, it is evident that women still have a long way to go until complete equality has been reached.

History was made once again in 1979, when the first female Prime Minister was elected – Margret thatcher. Although the profound achievement of being the first female Prime Minister in British political history was a revolutionary accomplishment, Thatcher is infamous for her reluctance to help women during her time in power, evident by the fact that she had just one female minister in her cabinet. Patricia Hewitt, BBC News, argues that although thatcher broke the ‘glass ceiling’ in British politics, it was a tragedy that she undermined women’s place in society rather than help to raise their status, suggesting her time as Prime Minister was a wasted opportunity. An indisputable argument challenging the view of so many is Thatcher’s reluctance to treat women and men any politically different Hugo Young wrote in his biography of Thatcher suggesting an underlying promotion of gender equality through her willingness to treat both sexes politically the same. Similarly, according to journalist, Jenni Murray, Thatcher’s adamant refusal to place her power behind the fight for gender inequality symbolised something of crucial importance to women. Although women in high profile roles can act as role models or normalise women working in high profile roles, Bill Esterson, Merseyside MP, expressed his concerns during a recently conducted interview arguing that Thatcher railed any support of positive discrimination for women and said that they should be promoted on merit as well as speaking out against the use of full time childcare for young children because she didn’t want to make Britain a ‘creche’ society, challenging Youngs view, suggesting that Thatcher’s reluctance to fight for female injustice overshadowed any underlying achievements she made during her time in power. the Conservatives under Thatcher adopted a more ideological, meritocratic, opportunity-focussed discourse rooted in gender neutrality, which shared their leader’s outspoken disapproval both of feminism, and of identity politics in general. Some take the view that our current female Prime Minister has similar attributes to that of thatcher as less than a quarter of Theresa mays cabinet are female. Having said that, it is unquestionable that such women have revolutionised female authority in parliament.
Over the years, Women have been helped through legislation and law that have helped bring about change in societies perception of female roles. The Equal Pay Act (1970) has given individual working women in the UK the right to the same pay and benefits as a person of the opposite sex. However, despite such legislation, the world economic Forum declares that we won’t get complete equal pay until 2186, suggesting legislation such as this is useless, if it isn’t implemented into every aspect of society. In a recently watched Ted talk sandy Tokvig, equality activist, argues that there is no single place on earth in which women receive equal pay to men and this fact will never change unless more women are put into positions of power and influence. Nevertheless, The Sex Discrimination Act (1975) prohibits direct and/or indirect gender discrimination against individuals in the areas of employment, education, the provision of goods, facilities and services. However, legislation is often over looked or disregarded and if there are not enough women implemented to help make and enforce the laws, therefore it unsurprising that a female’s perspective is overlooked and ignored. The lack of affordable childcare and maternal duties is another factor inhibiting women’s ability to sustain a high-brow political career. The Working Families charity’s own annual survey of working parents have demonstrated this issue, providing evidence that availability of childcare is a large source of concern that is influencing individuals’ choices regarding employment, particularly those in the political field. However, there is evidence of British parliamentary concern over this matter through Flexible Working Regulations (2003) which give employees the statutory right to ask for a flexible working pattern, including working from home, reduced hours or different hours, for workers with children aged under six years. However, women such as Tokvig strive to take this step further, introducing her own political party ‘Women’s Equality Party’ which aims to be the only political party to offer free childcare to candidates so that they can get out of the house and start campaigning. Tokvig’s political development stimulated an increasing number of male Politian’s advocating the need for gender equality reinforcing the underlying issue of fake political interest in order to gain support, often resulting in empty promises and disappointment.
However, according to UN Women , gender inequality in politics is a national and growing issue and Britain is a model of underrepresentation for other countries to follow. Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, including 4 chambers with no women at all. It is proven that women bring a distinct perspective to the political table however the unchanging global history of political gender disparity forces woman to conform to stereotypes rather than ‘push the boundaries and demand what we are told to be impossible’ . Women’s representation in politics is not linked to whether a country is rich or poorSurprisingly in the less economically developed county, Rwanda, where women have won 63.8% of seats in the lower house has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide in contrast to the 29.4 per cent of women in the house of commons. Although Britain has more female MPs than ever before, journalist Radhika Sanghani , urges the public to view our progress in a global context to understand how far we have to go. Nevertheless, Britain can take some consolation in the fact that we now beat Australia, France and the USA in which less than 20% of women are represented in federal government. Sanghani also regards Britain as an ‘impressive example’ to countries with no female MPs at all, for example, Qatar and Yemen, suggesting that although 40th in the global percentage of women MPs, Britain’s impact on encouraging all counties to take into consideration female perspective, could acts a catalyst for worldwide reformation. PROGRESS FOR THE FUTURE- {There is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them. Women demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women’s caucuses – even in the most politically combative environments – and by championing issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform.}

ANalysisng more closely at statistical evidence regarding gender inequality in the British parliamentary system, it is apparent that gender disparity infiltrates every element of politics. the number of female ministers and cabinet members is a ‘scandalous under-representation’ according to David Comeran on beomjng leader of the Tory Party in 2015 . However, when being questioned on why 75% of his cabinet are still men despite his commitment to equality by Labour MP Emma Lewell Buck , Cameron defends himself by explaining the additional female cabinet member in his government in contrast to Blair’s 5 cabinet ministers. Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, criticised the reshuffle, saying the Prime Minister had chosen to further marginalise women’s influence on politics. “The failure to increase the number of women around the top table of politics also sends a message to other walks of life that excluding women from positions of power is acceptable,” she said. Just seven of May’s 21 cabinet posts went to women – almost the same proportion as under former Prime Minister David Cameron. Seven women sounds like a shameful total especially under the influence of a female Prime Minister who should be more inclined to raise the political integrity of females in politics, especially after her ow personal struggle to be viewed as a legitimate political force to be reckoned with. CONTRASTINGLY, SOPHY RIDGE SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, SKY NEWS argues that gender balance is about much more than numbers. For the first time in history, two of the top four great offices of state are held by a woman at the same time – Prime Minister and Home Secretary (Amber Rudd). Nevertheless, Feminists will be disappointed that the second ever female Prime Minister did not achieve the anticipated fully gender balanced team, symbolically reinforcing the patriarchal preference in the cabinet. However, if the goal is a country where gender doesn’t matter, it is important to understand that Numbers are just numbers and it is power that inevitably counts, indicating that although women may not theoretically and numerically have equality in politics, when closely analysing the power and influence of certain political individuals it is evident that women possibly exert more power than presumed when briefly scanning statistical evidence.

The argument on whether different political parties represent women better or worse in comparison to each other is another crutial underlying issue with regards to the gender inequaity debate. Harriet Harman agues that the ib d+Dems have long esused feminist ideology, however, heir party has drastically lagged behing on wmens rpresentation in parliament with just over 12% of there MPSs being female. Condemning the party to the embarrassment of having less famele MPs to those of the conservatives. Given that women are significantly more prominent in the shadow cabinet and the number of Labour MPs, Bill Esterson shared his view on whether a Labour government would represent women and women’s issues better than the current, or any future conservative government. Unsurprisingly, he responded with the blunt answer- yes. However justifying his politically biased opinion arguing not only because there would be more women in the government, but because Labour’s values of fairness and equality better address the needs of women and the challenges they fac. For example, Conservative cuts have hit women hardest due to women being more likely to have caring responsibilities. Similarly, Harriet Harmen, Labour MP, argues that the Tories wrongly believe that female maternal duties have never discouraged a women’s ability to work, suggesting that a labour government would make women fully visible in the employment and unemployment statistics, helping women to assert a sense of political independence and rejecting the notion that they were simply housewives. In figure 2 it is evident Labour MPs did contribute proportionally to more speeches about women than Conservatives MPs. This provides helpful support for the widely acclaimed argument that from the lte 2oth entuary the Labour party, with a substantially higher proportion of women MPs, a greater ideological sympathy to feminism and adoption of all-women shortlists from 1993, has gave greater attention to the substantive representation of women than the Tories. On the other hand, according to the independent, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has said that “addressing gender equality and supporting women’s rights is not a nice-to-have, it’s essential”, coming from the mouth of a leader of a party that is believed to favour female authority less, is an important milestone in switching misogynist conservative perceptions. Similarly, the Conservatives have offered policies that not only recognised but uther encourage female contribution in the work- place. Not only emphasising o right to request flexible working hours but also in terms of ‘re-balancing mother care with flexible parental leave’ (see Campbell and Childs, 2010) This suggests there is no statistically substantial difference between the parties overall, whilst party status – that is, whether the party was in government or opposition – was in fact more important than party itself.

Figure 2- A graph to show the proportion of speeches about women made by Conservative and Labour MPS
The ongoing debate surrounding gender inequality in British Politics centres around one key question- how has his happened? What is the cause of such a gender imbalance and if the cause is identified, then what viable solutions could be absolved? Close analysis of Harriet Harman’s first-hand perspective of female political oppression in which she charts the rise of the Women’s Movement, suggests the causes of her personal gender struggle in parliament. In the early 20th century education was ‘wasted on a girl’ and women didn’t dare challenge the men whos influence was crucial in enabling them to progress in their careers. However, Harman fought against this cyclic nature of oppression as she was determined that her life wouldn’t be dominated by the wifely duties of looking after a husband, a household, and children. Likeminded female politicians gave rise to the Woman’s Movement who aimed to challenge male hierarchy, reject the notions that women where simply wives and mothers and contribute to a government in which women regarded themselves as equal . However male and female Politian’s alike agree that the single contributing factor of political gender disproportion is female caring commitments. Esterson argues that Women are less likely to be able to commit to the necessary campaigning to get selected as candidates and to get elected, and less likely to be able to commit to the long and unsociable hours of Parliament, due to maternal commitments, suggesting that a lack of free childcare for potential MPs is holding them back. Likewise, Harman admits that she was exhausted by the combination of having a young family, late nights in the house of commons and demanding constituency work, reinforcing the idea that motherly responsibilities are constant struggle for female MPS, possibly holding many women who wish to peruse a political career back. However, Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North-West, suggests that women are more likely to come to parliament with specific goals and that, if they are unable to achieve such goals they are inclined to leave. Despite a possible sexist generalization, men tend to be attracted to politics by the power of status in contrast to women who are there to achieve a fundamental goal, implying that women’s resilience and head strung attitude is almost self-disparaging when it comes to female involvement in parliament, offering an alternative viewpoint to the likes of Esterson who belief it is solely based on ‘caring responsibilities’.

Figure 4 – A graph to show how FPTP exaggerated the political differences between Britain’s regions and nations. In the 2010 general election
Upon my trip to Edge Hill University, I was enlightened by Caroline Lucas and her alternate approach to the causes behind gender inequality in politics and how the parliamentary system needs to change for equal representation to occur. Britain’s ‘First Past the Post’ system undermines our political system because the majority of votes fail to make an impact. Lucas claimed that in the previous election 68% of votes were wasted and 44% of voters feel as though the UK parliament is incapable in expressing there views. The result of figure 4 made it seem as if Labour and the Conservatives dominated certain areas despite neither party gaining more than 50% of the votes in any part of Great Britain. This could suggest that First past The Post politically divides Britain ensuring that labour and the conservatives will ignore the vast majority of voters concerns in Britain where there representation is small resulting in an exaggerated sense of division. Therefore, in order for our political system to have credibility, Lucas argues that proportional representation is the answer. This will not only modernize our political system but it will increase voter turnout and d ensure that two party politics fails to dominate the political spectrum. occording to a report made by the Fawcett society , Research suggests that ‘multi-member proportional representation systems are more likely to benefit women than plurality-majority systems such as First Past the Post.’ There is a distinct gap in women’s representation in countries with single-member constituency electoral systems and those with Propotional Representation systems. Proportional Representation offers political parties with more opportunities and flexibility and less risk in adopting equality strategies to ensure equal numbers of women to men in selection and election. Despite the link between proportional representation and the rise of extremist parties, evidence suggest that the replacing Britain’s voting system with one that is more representative of voters concerns, will increase the chance of gender representation. However, the report conducted by the Fawcett society suggest that ‘no voting system, in and of itself, will progress gender equality or redress our current democratic deficit’. There is no functional evidence to support the view that electoral systems can ensure equal representation in parliament or embody gender equality within the systems, processes and culture of Parliament. However, a proportional represntation sytem should effectively represent constituencies and proportionately reflect gender, age, ethnic, religious and socio-economic groupings of the electorate at large, possibly increasing the chance of female infucence in plolitics. This could result in more women in politics, which consequently brings change to the politcal sphere i=pf inequality.
An alternative and somewhat less drastic approach to encouraging gender equality in parliament is through job sharing MPs in which Caroline Lucas argues “would help more women into politics, more disabled people and more people for whom being an MP is currently unimaginable and inaccessible.” However, Tory MP Sir Roger Gale says the idea is completely incompatible with the duties of an MP and is “parliamentary populism and opportunism at its absolute worst”. These two contrasting views on the issue of job sharing raises various questions regarding its suitability towards political life. However there is no doubt that job sharing could enhance the diversity of parliamentarians resulting in a broader range of perspectives in the house of commons that are meant to represent 66 million people living in Britain.
Often political, economic and social inequality is fuelled by representation of women in the media. Both men and women need to work together to see an end to narrow or negative attitudes about women and outdated stereotypes that maintain inequality. Equality between women and men will not be achieved by legal change alone. How society, culture, communities and individuals view women and women’s equality will make a huge difference. The 2018 ‘Me too’ movement sent shockwaves across the globe, givig women who have been objectified, oppressed and assaulted a voice. Whether it be abuse in law, the entertainment iductry, politics or in the workplace,, women were aloud to speak out about the injustices they faced. As Oprah said in her 2018 golden globes speech, ‘a new day is on the horizon’ where women are taken seriously and treated with m=the respect they deserve , not only in the media, but in every aspect 0f society,
Whle qoemn help to reshape the future, it is important nott= to misrepresent the past. Prior to 1987, women had never made up of more than 5% of MPs in Parliament in contrast to the 2017 general election in which 208 women have made up 32% of all MPs. However is this evidence enough to suggest that there will be an equal proportion of male and female MPs in the near future? After ceturaies of fight, determinion and willingness to speak out and be heard, it is a national tragedy that women have not been granted equal positions in parliemnt who help make and enforce the laws that such women are obliged to follow. Over 50% of the British population are female therefore it is only right that 50% of legislators in the House of Commons are female so that we can live in a society that values everyone’s opinions regardless of there gender. However statistics suggest that gender equality may not be reached until the very distant future. If female involvement in politics continues at the same rate it has done over the past 20 years, a parliemnt that has a 50:50 representation of men and women, will not be a reality for another 50 years. In addition, The World Economic Forum’s ninth Global Gender Gap Report estimates that the world will not eliminate the gender gap until 2095, another 81 years. The hope that maybe, one day, in the somewhat distant future women might be given equal opportunities in parlieamnt is arguably not enough. Howver, when perceived in a historic global context, looking at the progress women have made during the past centuary, it is both inspiring and hopefull that the streangth and determination of sch women will inevitably pay off.

For the future, much will change, however as Harman suggests in her Epilogue, we should be gratified and proud that women have made such progress in politics, but we should never be greatful. Therights rights that women have made progess in achieveing should have always been ours because women have not been askinh for something that we were not always entitled oto