On International Women's Day 50:50 Parliament marched through London with Helen Pankhurst, Gemma Arterton, Annie Lennox and Paloma Faith to demand equality for women. We joined forces, to show solidarity with Care International and demonstrate about the under-representation of women in the UK Parliament. Nearly 100 years after women got the right to vote, politics still looks like the preserve of men. Men occupy 77% of the seats in the House of Commons. 50:50 were loud and proud waving our banners and wearing our t-shirts. We aspire to more gender balanced Parliament and I think that we got noticed. Justine Greening, a member of the cabinet no less, even sported our 50:50 Tote bag to demonstrate solidarity with our 50:50 cause!
What is the 50:50 Parliament?
50:50 Parliament is a Petition asking Parliament to debate all the solutions for better gender balance and take action to get approximately 50:50 men and women within our lifetime. It is a cross party campaign, an apolitical aspiration. This is not an impossible dream. About 70 countries have proportionally more women in their Parliaments than the UK. It can be done, we only need 177 more female MPs from a population of 32 million women. We don't want our daughters and granddaughters to be fighting the same old battle for fair representation. So to mark International Women's Day and show solidarity with all women we called upon everyone, men and women, to take one small action to support gender equality: sign and share the 50:50 Parliament Petition at change.org/5050Parliament.
Ask Parliament for better gender balance, the effects will ripple across society.
Historic problem needing a solution
In the UK women's political involvement is a historic, systemic problem. In total there have only ever been 370 female MPs. Currently there are 502 men and 148 women MPs so there are more men sitting on those green benches right now there have ever been women. On the basis of the last three elections, it will take over 100 years to get close to equality.
For many years I have been ranting to my family, discussing and debating ideas for better gender balance at Westminster. Finally my daughter said "Stop talking about it Mum and do something, put up a petition, like the No More Page 3." So I did. No More Page 3 ran an awesome campaign with a petition on Change.org. They have been successful, since 22 Jan the Sun Newspaper has dropped the "Bare Boobs".
So petitions can work!
Representation matters and women have a wealth of experience and talents
Ed Miliband said, "the reason representation matters is because it shapes policies" and policies affect women. David Cameron has said that "this is fantastically important," and "we need to do more, much more." Great words, let's have some action. As the old suffragette saying goes "Deeds not words."
Women are 51% of the population. They are a diverse majority with a wealth of experience, talents, skills and qualifications that lend themselves to politics and government, 60% of law graduates are women. Vince Cable, Business Secretary, has asked companies to include more women on boards, because of the benefits that it brings. Like him we would like more women in Parliament, with men and women, the best of both, forging legislation for the future of our society, together.
The Head of Hansard suggests that the matter is too important to leave to the parties and that there is a case for constitutionalising gender equality of representation. The constitutional rights and representation of five million Scots have been debated, what about the rights and representation of 32million women?
In November, to celebrate the anniversary of Nancy Astor taking her seat, around a hundred 50:50 supporters met outside Parliament, by the historic railings where the suffragettes once chained themselves. We then marched into the House of Commons, through the Central Lobby to debate gender equality of representation in a committee room. Nancy Astor's words were ringing in our ears: "I wanted the world to get better and I knew that it couldn't get better if it was going to be ruled by men...alone." Like Nancy Astor, 50:50 believes that better gender balance in Parliament will help build a better society.
50:50 Parliament Needs Everyone's Support
Emma Watson in her #HeForShe campaign points out that to make progress with gender equality we need men on board. Ultimately, the 50:50 Parliament Petition can only succeed if it is backed by MPs, most of whom are men. The first MP in our t-shirt was Ben Bradshaw, a fantastic #HeForShe moment. From the very beginning men have been involved providing inspiration and help. As Paloma Faith pointed out yesterday "I think we have to acknowledge that women's rights are human rights and it would be really good to see men and women go hand in hand on these things, because we're all human".
50:50 Parliament has also had support from the Fawcett Society, NAWO (National Alliance of Women's Organisations), London Feminist Network and many other organisations. Please join them and the numerous men and women that have signed our petition - add your signature and comments at www.change.org/5050Parliament.