Where were the women's voices in the crucial Brexit debate? The answer is nowhere.
"The whole campaign period was dominated by men on television and in the press" states a research paper from Loughborough University which was doing analysis throughout the campaign.
Their analysis shows that men dominated 85% of press coverage and 75% of TV time during a significant period of the EU Referendum debate.
The report goes on to state "Despite gender becoming a hotly debated issue in the opening weeks of the campaign, when Harriet Harman accused broadcasters of ignoring women's perspectives, the representation of women in the debate has remained stubbornly low." Granted, in the last week there were four women and two men on the stage at the BBC EU debate at Wembley Arena, but this is deceptive. Closer analysis shows that even during that week TV appearances by women were still only around 20%.
From 6 May to 22 June the EU debate was dominated by four male Conservative MPs and Nigel Farage, who between them had over 70% of media appearances. David Cameron was the biggest hitter with 25% of appearances followed by Boris Johnson, 19%. Jeremy Corbyn came in at position 7 with 6% of appearances and Priti Patel was the only woman who featured in the top ten at position 8 with 3% of appearances. Even though women account for 29% of MPs they had less than 16% of MP's press and media coverage.
The day before the EU referendum enthusiastic young (under 18) 50:50 Ambassadors were invited by IDebate UK to debate "Leave or Remain" at Westminster. In preparation they received training where they learned that one of the key skills to debating is listening. It is only by good listening that debaters can address the key concerns of others.
Polling after the EU referendum suggests that men and women voted proportionally the same way, ie. 52% of women also wanted to Leave. But the question is; would the nature of the debate and the solutions sought have been the same if women had gained more media coverage? Without women or other under-represented groups included in the debates on Brexit, how were their voices to be heard and their concerns listened to?
Again the evidence from Loughborough university shows that 30% of the issues covered by the media centred around "Referendum conduct" ie. campaign behaviour. Important, topics such as "employment", "health services", "housing", "social security", "public services" and "education" received less than 10% of media attention. The economy and business received 19% coverage and immigration 13%, but these two big subjects needed to be put into the relevant context.
Since the referendum Nicky Morgan has said that people concerned about the immigration should feel able to express their opinions freely. She went on "Conservatives should explain the benefits it brings ... Politicians' failure to talk freely about the positive and negative aspects of immigration fuels social tension and racism" she added "If you don't talk about something, it festers and then it rears its ugly head several years down the line, which is what we are seeing now,"
It seems that reasonable arguments and respectful debate on important issues were lost during the discussions on Brexit, which were dominated by insults. Many have suggested that the result showed that electorate was angry and used this referendum to get even with an out of touch Westminster elite.
The tragic murder of Jo Cox MP was the nadir of the campaign. We cannot let her death deter women! Perhaps if more women had been involved and more respect and listening had happened the result of the referendum would have felt more conclusive and less of a reaction.
Going forward we need to remember the words of Jo Cox in her maiden speech:
"We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divides us".
Since the referendum a few more women in British politics are gaining the headlines with Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom putting themselves forward for leadership of the Conservative Party and maybe Angela Eagle and perhaps Yvette Cooper contemplating running for the leadership of the Labour Party. Time will tell.
But just because a few women are now gaining the political limelight does not change the fundamental fact that men outnumber women by 140% in our House of Commons and 200% in the Lords. There are still more men sitting on those green benches than there have ever been female MPs in the whole of history. If Parliament is so inaccessible to the majority of the population that are women it is probably inaccessible to many others. The EU referendum was nothing new. Even in 2016 it is mainly men that debate in Parliament and decide how our country will be run and determine it's future. It's the same old story.
50:50 Parliament are calling upon all the Party Leaders and Parliament to address this democratic deficit and come up with solutions, and there are many, to ensure that our Parliament becomes more inclusive and gender balanced so that all voices are heard in all the debates that determine our lives.
#5050Parliament #BestOfBoth #OneWayOrAnother #SoonerRatherThanLater