The 50:50 Parliament Campaign: why is our government still not equal?
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Politics is dominated by men. This is not a controversial statement, it is a fact. However, women make up half the population in the UK, so why isn’t this reflected in our government? Katherine Hockley spoke to Frances Scott, founder of the 50:50 Parliament campaign, to discuss this issue and the campaign that is trying to make a change and work towards gender equality in parliament. When did this campaign begin and what was it that motivated you to start it? I have been thinking about this issue for years and moaning to my family! I was spurred into action and actually put up the petition online at end of last year after hearing three men on the radio discussing gender equality in the House of Commons and ways of having more women MPs. How do you describe the campaign to new people? The 50:50 Parliament Campaign is an apolitical aspiration. Did you know that 77% of MPs in the House of Commons are men, that 51% of society is made up of women, yet they have only 23% of the seats in Parliament, where all the laws are passed and decisions made for the future of our country and society? 73 countries have proportionally more women MPs, so other countries have sorted it out better than the UK, which proves it can be done. Since 1918 (when the first woman MP was elected) there have only been 369 female MPs. On the basis of the last 3 elections, (when an average of around only eight extra women gained seats) it will take over 100 years for there to be gender equality at Westminster. 50:50 Parliament wants women to have equal seats before 100 years! We want gender equality of representation in the House of Commons. The country needs the best of both, men and women, working together, deciding and legislating for our future. We are asking Party leaders to debate and take action. We are not telling them how to do it. Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has asked corporations to include a certain number of women on their boards because it benefits business. He has set them a target, but he has not told them how to go about it. It is the same with 50:50 Parliament. We have an aspiration and set a target of around 50% women in Parliament but we are not telling Parliament how to do it. We are asking Party Leaders to debate and decide on the best solution. Like Vince Cable, 50:50 Parliament wants women to be included; sooner rather than later, one way or another. How many petition signatures are you aiming for and what happens when you reach your goal? We are aiming for at least 100,000 signatures because then it is possible that this might be debated in the House of Commons. Why do you think this change is important? Many reasons - where do I start? There are loads of them on the petition and they are fantastic! These are some the reasons why I think it is crucial: I think highly of women, their abilities and experience. Statistically we are not making the most of our nation’s collective resources if women account for less than around 50% of MPs. As Hillary Clinton says “Women are the world’s most underused resource.” And as Ngaire Woods, Professor at Oxford Uni, says: “We know that when women are in parliament…it builds more resilient, responsive, better informed institutions.” The evidence is overwhelming. Women’s lives have changed radically over the last century; there has been fantastic and amazing liberation. These changes have significant ramifications for our society. It is crucial that women are involved at a strategic, governmental level to consider the impact of these changes and be fully involved in formulating the strategies that address the consequences. Then last but by no means least, it is a question of justice. Women are the majority. The best people to represent women are women. It is unjust that they are a minority when it comes to running the country and forging legislation for the future. Professor Claire Annesley and Professor Francesca Gains have said the same. Do you think women are put off getting involved in the politics because of the representational imbalance? Yes I suspect that they are. What do you think would change in society and politics if there was fairer representation in parliament? It is possible that our society and politics might become a bit more like the Scandinavian model, where more women are involved in government. Perhaps it would be more balanced. As Ed Miliband has said “The reason representation matters is because it shapes the policies.” How would you persuade men to sign who viewed it as a “woman’s issue”? As I mentioned at the beginning, it was listening to several men (two of them professors of politics) who were in favour of more gender equality that got me started with this. Loads of men are supporting this campaign – you can see their photos on our Facebook page. They understand that it is a historic problem that needs a solution. They understand the injustice of it and the statistical anomaly. Some men have commented that they like working with women and others that they want a better future for their daughters. Gender equality benefits men too and enhances the quality of their lives. Here are some comments that men have made on the petition: “I support this because it would be more democratically representative if the gender balance in parliament represented the gender balance of society.” Mike “because I believe in true equality.” Stephan “I work in global democ. assistance. We are an imperial nation of hypocrites.” Thomas “Parliament should look like Britain, not an old boy's club. Only way the culture will ever change is to have a more diverse, more modern and more representative parliament.” Sean “I am signing this petition so that the quality of governance of our society is enriched to become fairer and wiser.” John “Because getting more women running our country will undoubtedly make it better.” Andrew Have you had much exposure for the campaign? So far this has been a Twitter campaign and it is being promoted using social media. We also have a petition and a Facebook page, and I’ve been on Chat City - Preston FM which you can listen to here. Have you had any notable backers that have helped the campaign? Fawcett Society - 50:50 Parliament is supported by the Fawcett Society. They have been working for women’s rights since 1866. It is fantastic that they are supporting us, a new kid on the block! Many of their members have signed & shared the petition and worn the t-shirt with pride. Jenni Murray, Radio 4 Women’s Hour presenter, has demonstrated support by being shown with our shirt (pics on the FB page). No More Page Three Campaign - they have been supportive helping us with retweets and Lucy Anne Holmes, the founder, has been photographed with us to demonstrate ‘solidarity.’ Ruby Wax - she has shown her support by being photographed with the t-shirt Dr Helen Pankhurst - Great grand-daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst has demonstrated her support being photographed with several of us in front of Parliament. Baroness Scotland - who is a top lawyer (QC) and sits in the House of Lords, has been photographed with supporters wearing the t-shirt. NAWO (National Association of Women’s Organisations) has offered help and support. What is the best or memorable response you’ve had to your campaign? “50:50, of course, like life.” Finally, how can people get involved? They can sign the petition, like the Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. People can also write their ideas and add comments on our blogs. They can also buy a T-shirt by emailing me on email@example.com, which only costs £6.80 including P&P.
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