THE BLOG

Parliament Is Unrepresentative - And Women Have A Duty To Make A Difference

28/03/2017 16:34
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all women everywhere

One of my fundamental beliefs about Parliament is that in order for it to work most effectively for its population, it should reflect the population's demographics. In order to fully represent its constituents, a legislature should itself be representative. Parliament should be, under that rule, a microcosm of UK society. On many counts, however, it is failing.

This year, a significant milestone was reached. For the first time, the number of women who have ever been Members of Parliament exceeds the number of men presently sitting. In other words, if we were to line up all the presently serving male MPs next to every woman ever elected - from Constance Markievicz elected in 1918 through to 2017 by-election winner Trudy Harrison - us women would just come out ahead. All that in just a hundred years.

Women make up only around 30% of the House of Commons right now, a very obvious misrepresentation of our society. I'm sure I don't have to spell out that we make up at least half the population. There are pressures that keep women out of Parliament - the sometimes overly macho attitude to lawmaking, the sitting hours and travel time that disrupt family life - but these are things we cannot change from the outside. My call to All Women Everywhere is to be the change they want to see in the world. To the women reading this: if being underrepresented in Parliament annoys you, like it did me, perhaps it is time to consider running for office.

Women are not the only ones underrepresented - black and minority ethnic MPs make up a far smaller percentage of the House of Commons than they do in British society, and in fact their numbers broken down by ethnicity reveals the paucity of representation in non-white ethnic groups, rather than reflecting the rich diversity of the UK. Similarly, the disabled population goes almost unnoticed in the make-up of Parliament.

As one of the few LGBT MPs, I feel a particular duty to make sure my community is represented. While there have been moves towards equality for the LGBT community, it takes leadership to make sure some of the legislative blind spots are filled. While we now currently have the Parliament with the highest number of lesbian, gay and bisexual politicians, including Government ministers, there still have never been any members who identify as trans.

As a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I receive correspondence from trans people from all over the UK who are crying out for their human rights to be recognised and for acceptance in society. I repeat my call to trans women, and to trans men: if you feel underrepresented in the political sphere, it is time to run for office.

I believe there is a trickle-down effect in society. If people see more LGBT people in elected office, it will have the effect of making young people realise they can contribute positively to society, regardless of their sexuality.

If I have learned anything in my time as an MP, it is that progress is slow in Parliament. Nothing demonstrates that better than the time it has taken for the total number of historical female MPs to outstrip the number of sitting males. However, the fact it has finally been achieved this year should give minority groups hope that in time the successes of the Women's Movement can be matched, and parity can be achieved.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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