THE BLOG

We Have More Women In Westminster Than Ever - But Progress Is Still Far Too Slow

09/06/2017 15:11 BST | Updated 09/06/2017 15:11 BST
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Making predictions can be a bit of a risky business. A few weeks ago at the Fawcett Society we did an analysis of the likely outcome of the general election in terms of the implications for the number of women MPs. We found that there was likely to be very little change with an increase of just one woman MP to 197 and the proportion staying at 30%.

At that point, Labour was predicted to lose 27 women MPs and the Conservatives to gain 32. Fast forward to today and we can see a very different political landscape before us. Labour has gained an extra 16 women, taking it to a total of 118 or 45%. The Conservatives have lost three from 70 to 67 and seen the percentage of women MPs unchanged at 21% as their total tally of seats has fallen from 330 to 117. One third of Lib Dem MPs (ie four of 12) and 34% of SNP MPs (12 of 35) are women, and when the other smaller parties are included we see a total of 207 women elected, up from 196 pre-election, with one result (Kensington) still in the balance.

So we have made some modest progress up from 30% to 32% women MPs and have broken through the 200 barrier, which at first glance, feels significant. But hang on a minute: at current rates of progress it will take another 45 years to achieve 50:50 representation. I don't know about you, but I feel a bit like a broken record with this issue, repeatedly saying we need to speed up the pace of change.

So here I go again. This rate of progress is far too slow! It moves us up the international league table from 46th to the dizzy heights of er... 38th. I just find this to be a total embarrassment for the mother of all Parliaments that we cannot seem to get our act together to really shift the dial on women's representation. The simple fact is that 80% of parliaments with more than 30% women MPs have used some form of quota. They do it because it works. We agree with the Women and Equalities Select Committee who before the election recommended that if we did not achieve significant progress at this general election (see above, we haven't) we should legislate to require political parties to select women candidates in 45% of their seats.

A time-limited use of an intervention of this kind is now essential. And while we are at it we should also commence section 106 of the Equalities Act which requires political parties to collect basic equalities monitoring data on their candidates. If they did this then we would actually be able to find out how many women, minority ethnic, disabled, LGBT candidates they were selecting (we can count the women but other protected characteristics are less obvious).

At present we just don't have this data. It's impossible to make progress on the diversity of candidates if basic monitoring data is not collected and reported. Yet the parties clearly want to do (and up to a point are doing) something about this.

It's not only about the number and diversity of women but the high calibre of the women MPs we have. I'm thinking of Jo Swinson, Mhairi Black, Jess Phillips and Jo Churchill, plus some new faces such as Gillian Keegan in Chichester and Marsha de Cordova in Battersea. We will need them as we head into the most significant fight to defend women's rights during and beyond the Brexit process. Although progressing the Government's agenda as a minority government will be extremely challenging, even with the DUP's support. Reflecting on the result, I suspect for the PM a hung parliament will at times feel a bit like being trapped in limbo, risking paralysis or at best slow progress. Welcome to my world Mrs May.

Sam Smethers is chief executive of the Fawcett Society