Women are being tuned off politics in huge numbers and fewer and fewer women are choosing to vote. Between 1992 and 2010 the number of women voting in general elections fell by 18%, and in the last poll in 2010 more than 9.1 million women failed to vote, compared with almost 8 million men. The problem was even worse among younger women, with only 39% using their ballot paper, compared with 50% of men in the same 18-to-24 age group. Last year, a study by the Girl Guides found that only 21% of young women had any interest in politics at all. This is a tragedy as we need women’s voices to count, to be heard.
Caroline Lucas, MP.
“I have seen whips literally pushing people through the aye lobby and the no lobby, even if they are remonstrating and saying, ‘I don’t want to vote this way.’ They are pushed over, and once you go over the entrance way, you can’t come out again. You just have to hide in the toilets. People don’t know what they’re voting on, and I think that’s shocking.”
Shocking is a word she returns to time and again when talking about parliament, most often in the context of the power of the whips. Often, she says, whips will deliberately assign MPs to work on committees where they have no expertise, so they pose no threat. “There is a lot of bullying,” she says. Does she have contempt for the parliamentary system? “Yes, I think I do. That’s not a word I would use lightly. We pride ourselves on our democracy, but when you see the way it actually works, I think it is worthy of contempt. MPs should be doing a hell of a lot more to reduce the power of the whips and to increase the power of the backbench MPs; to actually have people here to make a difference, rather than simply toe the party line.”
Jackie Ashley, Political Journalist.
Jane: You’ve been in a male dominated arena for much of your career. Have you experienced overt sexism and, if so, how do/did you deal with it?
Jackie: Oh yes, plenty. When I became pregnant with my first child I was a political correspondent for ITN. One of my bosses quite seriously asked if I’d like the number of an abortion clinic, because he couldn’t imagine that I would want to let something as boring as having a baby get in the way of my career. I went on to have three children and had to battle away to secure part- time work and eventually a job-share. I was also asked, via another boss, if I would not appear in the Member’s lobby in the House of Commons while pregnant, because some Conservative MPs found the sight of a pregnant tummy offensive!
John Bercow, Speaker of House of Commons.
“Too many “outstanding” women MPs are leaving Parliament.”
Sophie Bennett, co-director of UK Feminista.
“For too long, women’s inequality has been treated as a side issue, not the business of mainstream politics. But sexism in this country is a national scandal. Over 85,000 women are raped every year, the gender pay gap stands at 16% and women are the majority of low-paid workers. In a parliament whose membership is currently 77% male, parties will need to work hard to prove women’s inequality is even on their agenda, let alone a priority.”
Here’s a great way to get involved. It’s part of UK Feminista’s campaign which launched on international women’s day.
What would your MP candidates do to tackle sexism if elected on 7th May? Ask them here: votefeminist.takeaction.org.uk/lobby/6 #VoteFeminist
Use your vote this forthcoming election. Vote for whoever you like, but do vote!
You might also enjoy reading Is Feminism on the Change?
RenewYou is my one day course for women, available across the world. Click here to find out more.
Posted on March 13th, 2015 by Jane