29%, that's the new number of women MPs. It's the highest it's ever been and apparently we should be very grateful. I have been tweeted this excellent news, not from feminist supporters but from those who are against the campaign for quotas. Apparently, it is an example of how women are getting places all by themselves and directly contradicts the campaign for 50% representation of women in our parliaments.
It would appear that maths in not a strength of those tweeting, I didn't think 29% and 50% were the same. It has taken Westminster 96 years to reach 29% representation of women in parliament. Almost a century, and that is the rate of success.
Here's how women's representation looks by party: (% of women MPs out of all MPs in each party)
Liberal Democrats 0%
Greens 100% (with their 1 MP being a woman)
There seems to be a smugness from those against the 5050 campaign in Scotland and for Westminster on the increase of women, as if to say "Ha! They did it without the need for your disgraceful measures, you fools". Well, actually they didn't, both the Greens and Labour (those with the highest number of women candidates) used methods such as all women short-lists to ensure women were in key seats. This doesn't make those women any less worthy than those from parties who did not choose to fight against political sexism. It simply means these parties were more able to see, and take action on, the prejudice faced by women with the talent and capability to be political leaders. Quotas do not overlook merit, they elevate it. Quotas are the only way to create a level playing field.
Parties who have chosen positive measures are the reason the number of women in parliament has increased, but even these parties need to do more. Whilst these measures remain voluntary, the numbers will never reflect society. Equality of women cannot be on political will, it must be on decisive action.
This was the election where women were at the centre. Three out of the seven parties were led by women, and the impact of women leaders became a topic of discussion. This was welcome; given 9.1million women across the UK did not vote in the 2010 elections, the highest proportion of which were young women voters. It's critical we have women at the top to inspire other women to take part in political discourse.
But in contradiction to all of that hope, this was also the election of fierce sexism. The striking image of this election for me will be the superimposed image of Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland riding a wrecking ball Miley Cyrus style.
Along with that, there were the reporters who called the women "shrill" or "hysterical" when they merely made a political point in the same assertive manner as the men. Political cartoons with Leanne Wood in a low cut dress draped over Miliband and articles rating the clothing and "sexiness" of the women candidates. It's hardly surprising women are less engaged in politics and less likely to see themselves as leaders given this commentary. After witnessing the abuse of women in politics today, who would willingly put themselves into that bear pit? But with more women in politics, the culture would change. Women in leadership positions would be normalised and maybe, just maybe, more action would be taken on the perpetrators of such sexism.
The campaign for 50/50 representation, is not simply to put more women at the top, it fights for a deeper purpose - to change attitudes and culture.