Why aren’t there more women in government?

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Bust of Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected to the House of Commons in 1918. Photograh: William Murphy
Bust of Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected to the House of Commons in 1918. Photograh by William Murphy / CC

This week marks the 158th birthday of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who did so much for women, not only in politics but everywhere. The Pankhursts are greatly remembered because of their work regarding women’s right to vote. Earlier this week, the Electoral Reform Society tweeted a picture which demonstrates how many female MPs there are, especially compared to male MPs. Since 1918 there has been 450 female MPs, which is fewer than the amount of male MPs currently sitting in the House of Commons. This stark comparison indicates a great problem for Britain – how do we get more women involved in politics?

There are currently 191 female MPs, which is a great improvement granted, but it was only in the last 20 years that there was a rise in women being involved in politics. For the Labour Party, in the 1992 election, there was only 37, and this spiked to 101 in the 1997 election. Blair’s popularity and landslide victory undoubtedly contribute to the rise in female MPs in the 1997 election – after years of a tired Conservative government actively joining the Labour Party must have been a temptation for these women. For the Conservative Party this spike didn’t appear until the 2010 election; in the 2005 election there were 17 female MPs and this rose to 49 in the 2010 election. Similarly to Labour’s 1997 spike, the Conservative’s may have seen a spike as opposition to Labour’s government.

Laura Bates’s article in The Guardian perfectly compared two headlines from the Sun, 40 years apart, with very little difference, Handbags and kitten heels – how not to write about prime ministers. On the 12th July 2016, the Sun ran the headline ‘Heel Boys’ with a large picture of a kitten heel atop of Osborne, Hammond, Johnson, Crabb and Liam Fox. This article demonstrates many reasons why women may not want to get involved in politics: the media’s unfair treatment of them and the lack of privacy into their private lives makes politics an unattractive prospect. Though the media does pry into the private lives of male politicians, with a plethora of scandals coming to mind, the media doesn’t comment on their ability to ‘have it all’ and being a father as well as a politician, like they do with motherhood and working in politics. Talking about motherhood, Andrea Leadsom’s comments were more self – destructive than helpful and showed that the nature of politics has a long way to go yet. Whilst it’s understandable that in a leadership contest she wanted to beat her opponent, but dragging her personal life into the contest only served to prove that if it’s acceptable for her to do it then others will follow suit.

This week has shown that technology has a firm place in politics, with Turkish President Erdogan giving a speech over facetime and British politics is no different.  Social media has taken a firm hold over the world, with Twitter being the best method of direct contact. Social media can be great – it gives instant access to the electorate and what their opinions are. But it has to be said – there is a dark side to the internet, especially on social media where people are free to verbally abuse whomever they, please.  With Angela Eagle’s announcement to run in the Labour leadership contest came waves of judgement based on her voice alone. Abuse and threats don’t only come via Twitter, though – the brick thrown through Angela Eagle’s campaign office window shows real danger for MPs. With Jo Cox’s tragic death came new fears; physical threats had escalated to real violence. Is a question surely posed after the actions taken against female MPs – is it worth it? With women in politics fearing for their lives, what incentive is there to become involved in politics.

Politics has traditionally been a ‘boys club’, run by the political elite with connections stemming from Eton and Oxbridge. Under this elite, there was little room for women to join until traditional roles had disappeared and modern views had taken place. Thatcher’s appointment as leader of the Conservative Party and subsequent election to Prime Minister in 1979 gave hope to a new, more equal kind of Westminster. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that women truly began to start becoming involved in politics. Much of the news recently has been about Theresa May’s new cabinet and how many women she would appoint. She previously stated that she wanted to appoint a record number of women to her cabinet, and she has done so. By appointing women such as Amber Rudd as Home Secretary, Liz Truss as Justice Secretary and Justine Greening as Education Secretary it appears that perhaps women are finally becoming equal. However, she has also appointed Liam Fox, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Stephen Crabb, some traditional Conservative MPs.

Hopefully, May’s leadership, Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, the number of women in the cabinet and the number of female MPs will continue to aspire women to join politics.

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About Laura Simmons 1 Article
A recent Politics graduate and a current Intelligence and Security student, I have a passion for writing and a great interest for British politics and history as well as current affairs.

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