Today Is A Historic Day for Women’s Representation in Parliament

Women MPs are now at a record high, but the fight for equal representation isn't over.
MPs Diane Abbott, Monica Harding and Jess Phillips
MPs Diane Abbott, Monica Harding and Jess Phillips
Getty Images

On Thursday, 4 July 2024, 263 women were elected to parliament, marking a jump of 6% from 35% women MPs to over 41%. This is a record high.

In the 96 years since the Equal Franchise Act (when women were given the vote on the same terms as men) we have never got so close to a gender balanced Parliament. Which is wild, if you think about it. In a country where 51% of the population are women – the fact it has taken decades to inch toward a 50:50 Parliament is truly a democratic disgrace.

However, here we are, almost a century on, with a bright new era for women dawning. What a victorious result for women at the end of a gruelling election campaign.

This truly is a historic day – a 50:50 Parliament is now no longer a dot on the horizon, it is beaming into view and – with a fair wind – we can even dare to hope to reach equal representation in the next election.

We are not there yet, 41% is not 50%, but to potentially have a government with more women MPs than ever before and the potential of a gender balanced cabinet; that is exciting and cause for celebration. This is a great day for women’s representation.

“When more women are at the table, we all win.”

Although we have read and absorbed the research about what gender equality in government has done for other countries, we have never seen it in practice here. We have never been given the opportunity to see how gender balance could positively affect our society. Research underpins the fact that when there is more diversity and higher numbers of women on both statutory and corporate bodies, outcomes are better. Whether that be increased profit in the corporate sector or better health outcomes and sustained peace-keeping in states across the world – when more women are at the table, we all win.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels. This re-balancing of the scales was only possible because Labour fielded a large percentage of women candidates and won in a landslide victory. We know that only 30% of candidates overall, across all parties, were women. To future-proof the trend towards gender balance we must take a closer look at candidate selection processes and also make a concerted effort to make parliament fit for purpose for women in the next four years.

One only has to look at the abuse suffered by Jess Phillips as she acknowledged her win in Birmingham Yardley – not to mention the constant bombardment of Diane Abbott – the new Mother of the House – to know we need an about-turn on how we *all* treat politicians – and quick.

In response to a question from Alastair Campbell about how we encourage young women into politics in the current climate, Jess Phillips said, “Young women activists are absolute kryptonite. The reason people get annoyed and fight back against it is because women change the world.” And this is why 50:50 continues to push for more women to be involved in the shaping of our policy and legislature. Phillips went on to highlight the strong sense of sisterhood in Parliament. We do know that the ‘mother of parliaments’ needs modernising and it is encouraging that Labour included a ‘Modernisation Committee’ in their manifesto.

Our chair, Susan Bright, has said:

We have been inching our way toward equal representation in Parliament for over one hundred years. We know that representation shapes policy and policy shapes lives. Having more women in positions of power will mean that their experience comes to bear when discussing and drafting policy and legislation. This is important, not just for women, but for the whole of society. It is clear that when women are more equally represented, including in leadership positions, outcomes benefit everyone.

“50:50 is delighted to have played our part in inspiring and supporting women to stand for election. Indeed, 101 from the 50:50 community stood in this election, with 23 being elected. We are delighted for them and pay to tribute to all of the women who stood and campaigned as it takes immense fortitude and stamina. We will continue to champion the cause until 50:50 representation has become the norm.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves speaking to the media at EY in London, during a press conference while on the General Election campaign trail.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves speaking to the media at EY in London, during a press conference while on the General Election campaign trail.
Lucy North - PA Images via Getty Images

The advent of a new Labour government will also likely see our first ever female Chancellor of the Exchequer with Rachel Reeves. It is customary for women in politics to be given more ‘feminised’ briefs such as health or social care, and so it is a pivotal moment to have a woman holding one of the most senior jobs in government – and the UK purse strings. It is also heartening that Reeves has stated that she will close the gender pay gap for good – which would not only be an historic achievement but is also predicted to boost women’s earnings by £55bn a year (this is not your personal earnings, I must – reluctantly –add).

The idea for 50:50 Parliament – as a campaign – started a decade ago at our founder Frances Scott’s kitchen table. Scott has said this morning,

50:50 started as a grass-roots pressure group at my kitchen table in 2013. To have had 101 women from the 50:50 network stand in this election is a testament to the power of our central message: we want to build a better democracy TOGETHER.

“We are delighted for all of the women who have been elected, and we hope that they will use their positions and influence to enable more women to follow them up the ladder. Women’s representation in Parliament was 23% when I started 50:50, to have reached 41% 10 years later is fantastic but shows we still have a long way to go. Women are the majority in life but still a minority in the corridors of power and this is a democratic deficit. I don’t want it to be another decade – or more – before equal representation becomes a reality.”

50:50 Parliament will continue to work with all of the parties, and partners in civil society, to bring about the changes we need to see to create a truly equal Parliament – as well as inspire and support women on their path to elected office. Whilst we are over the moon at this new high for women’s representation, we know there is more work to be done.

Today we celebrate, tomorrow we continue the fight.


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