Missing Women: It’s Time for Legislative Quotas in British Politics

Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs, Meryl Kenny

and the other members of the UK Political Studies Association (PSA) Women and Politics Specialist Group

Last week the Counting Women In coalition published its 2014 report into Sex and Power in the UK. Yet again women will be reading that they are under-represented in British politics: at Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff, Stormont, and in local government across the UK. Meanwhile, resistance to gender quotas continues, with a recent YouGov poll highlighting the lack of popular support for all-women shortlists. It’s time for political parties to show leadership on this issue and follow the global evidence – well-designed and properly implemented quotas are the most effective way to address the under-representation of women. Patience is no longer an option – the time has come for legislative quotas in British politics.

Still Counting

The findings from last week’s Sex and Power in the UK report are stark: women constitute more than half the population but only 23% of MPs and Government Minsters, 35% of MSPs; 42% of AMs; 19% of MLAs and 33% of local councillors. Globally, the UK’s performance on women’s representation is slipping – in 1997 the House of Commons was ranked 20th in the world for women’s representation; it is now 65th.

No one who knows anything about British politics will be surprised about this. Sure there are frequently lots of brightly coloured jackets on show at PMQs , but earlier this year the maleness of politics was laid bare at Westminster: the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister apparently failed to realise that their front bench was men-only. While the Sex and Power report is welcome, it’s but another in a long line of reports over the last decade and a half which show substantially fewer women than men in politics[i]. We also now know – for the first time systematically – that mothers are a particularly absent group in the House of Commons. Working class women are rarely part of elite male claims about the under-representation of working class MPs. And BME women are fewer than they should be despite gains and ‘firsts’: in 2010, the first BME Conservative woman MP and the first Muslim women MPs.

The research evidence is clear about the causes of women’s under-representation: a combination of a lack of women coming forward and obstacles placed in their path. Academic research also shows – based on UK and global analysis – that something can be done about it in the here and now. The use of gender quotas by the Labour party in the form of All-Women Shortlists (AWS) for Westminster elections in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010, and twinning in Scotland and Wales in 1999, reveals the critical role that UK political parties play as gatekeepers to political office. In short, when a political party has adopted a quota for women in the UK, women’s representation has increased.

Sex and Power shows clearly the impact of Labour’s quota for the 2015 general election on the numbers of women selected as parliamentary candidates relative to the other two main parties. While not all selections have been completed, the Tories lag well behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats in terms of the number of female candidates selected in retirement seats, and behind Labour in target seats. Admittedly, the Conservatives might be able to increase their selections of women candidates in the last year; meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats will need localized above national swings to protect their sitting women MPs. In contrast, Labour should – as a direct result of AWS – see a PLP that is more than 40 percent female.

If we look to Scotland and Wales, Labour’s advantage remains, again thanks to quotas. Yet while Labour women continue to hold up headline figures, the previous Nordic-level highs of women’s representation at Holyrood and Cardiff are beginning to look rather like distant memories. In Scotland, the decline in women’s representation has been particularly dramatic, with the current SNP government only delivering a ratio of 1 in 4 women to men in their parliamentary group. This is likely to stall if not fall in the event of another SNP victory in 2016, given the party’s reluctance to follow Labour’s lead in adopting quota measures.

Following the Evidence: The Argument for Gender Quotas

As soon as quotas are raised critics are quick to tell us that everybody hates them. Male and female politicians (the usual suspects) are vocal in the media rubbishing them, from across the political spectrum. And a YouGov poll reported last week found that the public don’t like them, with not one group in favour of them. Indeed, if you ask the public what kind of representative they want, they don’t want women, even as they will agree that in principle there should be more women in politics. The findings of the YouGov survey should again not come as a surprise; surveys have repeatedly shown that voters are hostile to the concept of gender quotas or all-women shortlists. However, parties that present an all male face to the public risk looking out of touch and out of date, and the only short to medium term fix to this problem is to apply equality guarantees; be they AWS or ‘A lists’ rigorously applied.

Do quotas work? The global evidence is overwhelming – quotas that are well-designed and properly implemented are the most effective way of ensuring significant increases in women’s representation. Indeed, 17 of the top 20-ranked countries for women’s representation have used some form of gender quotas – ranging from voluntary party quotas to statutory legislative ones. Rather than follow the evidence, however, opponents of quotas usually advance a set of well-worn criticisms – quotas are un-democratic, they discriminate against men, they create ‘token’ women politicians, and so on. Well, here’s a few counterarguments to the critics, in the elite and in the wider society:

  1. ‘Just be patient, increases in women’s representation will happen naturally’. The evidence is clear – gains in women’s representation are too small and they are taking too long. As the Sex & Power report highlights, a girl born today in the UK will be drawing her pension before she has an equal voice in the government of her country. Such a scenario also presumes an upward linear trajectory – which in the UK and elsewhere is demonstrably not guaranteed.
  1. ‘There just aren’t enough women’. When parties are required to select women, they usually manage to ‘find’ that they had women who’d been willing to stand all along, if only somebody had asked them. Indeed, both Wales and Scotland managed to find women to stand for the new institutions, achieving record levels of women’s representation in 1999 and 2003. Many studies have shown actual increases in the share of women candidates following the introduction of quotas. Do we really think the UK does not have 300 women good enough to be MPs out of a population of 65 million?
  1. ‘Quotas promote unqualified candidates’. First, as above, qualified women are out there, just not ‘seen’. Second, the concept of merit is itself gendered, in that it privileges the ‘male-politician-norm’ over the ‘female-politician-pretender’ – there is no evidence to support the assumption that men are ‘naturally’ better at politics than women. Indeed, analysis of the career trajectories of Labour’s women MPs shows that they were as successful as their male colleagues.
  1. ‘Quota women will be stigmatised’. This may be a problem if there are only a few women, but where a larger number come in this is less likely. Labour’s AWS women have reported that their colleagues and the public rarely have an accurate sense of who was and who was not a ‘quota woman’. Finally, if one has sex neutral quotas – for example, 50/50 for both sexes – then you also create ‘quota men’, and the argument simply disappears.

The long Grass is no longer an option: time for legislative quotas now

Quotas work, but they lack popular support – does this mean that the issue of women’s under-representation is irresolvable? Absolutely not, there is a space for political leadership on this issue. As recent Scottish polls demonstrate, opinions change – voters agree that there should be more women in politics and they don’t penalise women candidates at the ballot box. When faced with an AWS woman the voter does not discriminate either.[ii]

Yet, the political parties have not yet tried to lead rather than follow public opinion on this issue. As a result, the UK debate over quotas has been marginal (within the parties, and only to any effect within Labour), parochial (refusing to engage with the global evidence), non-scientific (failing to follow the evidence), and ideological (refusing to accept that gender matters to democracy). The leaders of both main parties in England who are resistant to quotas have a tendency to raise their spectre only not to follow through: Cameron in 2010 said there would be some when the best candidates were women; Clegg is apparently prepared to countenance them after the next election…..we have become sceptical of such promises.

In this context, the debate about quotas in the UK can no longer be left in the hands of the parties. In all of the recent reports, recommendations have suggested that it is time for the UK to consider legislative quotas:

And

  • The concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which call on the UK to consider more prescriptive measures to address the political under-representation of women in political life

A Labour government is probably the most likely direct route; but a cross-party group of women MPs post 2015, if the numbers of women on the Tory and Lib Dem benches decline, would be another. Of course the House would need to be persuaded. Political leadership is essential – not just from the women who are most vocal on this, but from the men too who support the principle of equality. The exclusion of women from British politics is a serious democratic deficit. As such, it demands not patience but a solution that works: that solution is quotas.

 

PSAWomenPollogoThe PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group provides a focus for members of the UK Political Studies Association whose research focuses on women or gender, and is also a resource for women in the PSA. The group has a commitment to ensure the visibility of women in the PSA and the discipline, while combating sexism.

 

[i] See for example Sex & Power 2014, published by Counting Women In (the collective voice of the Hansard Society, Fawcett Society, ERS, CFWD and Unlock Democracy), September 2014; Improving Parliament, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament, July 2014; The Speaker’s Conference Report on Parliamentary Representation, 2010; and the Hansard Society’s Women at the Top, 2000, 2005, 2011.

[ii] Cutts, David, Sarah Childs, and Ed Fieldhouse. 2008. “‘This is what happens when you don’t listen': All-women shortlists at the 2005 General Election.” Party Politics 14(5):575-95; Cutts, David, and Paul Widdop. 2012. “Was Labour penalised where it stood all women shortlist candidates? An analysis of the 2010 UK General Election.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 15 (3), 435-455.

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**NEW BOOK** Deeds and Words: Gendering Politics after Joni Lovenduski

A new ECPR Press collection, edited by Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs, pays tribute to Professor Joni Lovenduski’s contribution to gender studies and feminist politics.

deeds and wordsHow does feminism shake up political science, the study of politics and electoral politics? What difference do feminist political scientists and politicians make to political institutions, policy processes and outcomes? The scholarship and activism of pioneering feminist political scientist Professor Joni Lovenduski helped establish these questions on the political science agenda.

This book, edited by Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs, addresses key themes in Lovenduski’s seminal work. State-of-the-art chapters by leading scholars cover gender and parties; elected institutions and the state; quotas and recruitment; public opinion and women’s interests. Vignettes by prominent politicians and practitioners, including Dame Anne Begg MP, Baroness Gould, Deborah Mattinson, and the Rt Hon Theresa May, bring the academic analysis to life.

Deeds and Words reveals the impact of feminist interventions on politics in the round. Its groundbreaking assessment of feminist scholarship and politics offers an appraisal of, and fitting tribute to, Lovenduski’s own contribution to gender studies and feminist politics.

The book is published by ECPR Press, and will be officially launched at the British Houses of Parliament in October. To purchase the book, please visit the ECPR Press website.

List of Chapters and their authors

Foreword by Albert Weale

Introduction: Deeds and Words Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs

Chapter One: Gendering Political Science Vicky Randall

Chapter Two: The Comparative Study of Politics and Gender Yvonne Galligan

Chapter Three: Representation Karen Celis

Chapter Four: Feminising Political Parties Sarah Childs and Rainbow Murray

Vignette – Gender and Party Politics: The ‘feminisation’ of the Conservative Party by Theresa May MP

Chapter Five : Gender and Political Institutions Fiona Mackay with Faith Armitage and Rosa Malley

Vignette – Gender and Political institutions: ‘Twinning’ – the Scottish Experience by Alice Brown CBE

Chapter Six: Women, Gender Politics and the State: The Words and Deeds of RNGS Amy G. Mazur and Dorothy E McBride

Vignette – Women and the State: Re-gendering our institutions by Baroness Howe

Chapter Seven: The Critical Mass Theory in Public and Scholarly Debates Drude Dahlerup

Vignette – The Story of Critical Mass: Women at Westminster by Jackie Ashley

Chapter Eight: Gender and Political Recruitment Meryl Kenny

Vignette – Gender and Political Recruitment: ‘How Can You Get the Best Person For the Job When the Best Person Hasn’t Even Applied?’ by Dame Anne Begg MP

Chapter Nine: How Quotas Work: The Supply and Demand Model Revisited Pippa Norris and Mona Lena Krook

Vignette – Beyond Quotas: Reflections on Parity in France by Axelle Lemaire

Chapter Ten: Gendering Policy: Praxis Joyce Outshoorn and Jennifer Rubin

Vignette – Gendering Policy: The Relationship Between Academia and Policy Campaigns by Mary-Ann Stephenson

Chapter Eleven: The Slippery Slope: Measuring Women’s Political Interests Peter Allen, Rosie Campbell and Ana Espirito Santo

Vignette – Women’s Political Interests: How the Women’s Vote is Decisive by Deborah Mattinson

Biography of Joni Lovenduski by Judith Squires

Afterword: Joni Lovenduski’s Contribution to Political Science Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs

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The Yes and No sides both want women’s votes – but they have a funny way of showing it

By Angela O’Hagan, Glasgow Caledonian University

Women appear to be everywhere in the debate on Scotland’s independence, except in the thinking of the mainstream parties when it comes to seeking ways to promote gender equality and eliminate discrimination in a future Scotland. This is despite the emphasis on securing women’s votes for both Yes and No campaigns and recent evidence of a continuing gap in voting intentions.

The established parties count numerous women among their prominent members. On the unionist side, women lead the Scottish Conservative and Labour parties and are to the fore among those campaigning for a No vote. On the pro-independence side, the SNP deputy leader is a woman; while many of the voices in platforms like Aye Talks and the Radical Independence Campaign are women’s. Local organising through Women for Independence has also generated extensive contact and engagement with women across Scotland.

Yet women’s actual presence in the mainstream media coverage of the debate, beyond senior politicians, has been questioned recently by activists and campaigners. And despite the fact that both sides have been making offers to women on issues such as childcare and corporate board composition, many other important issues are not coming into play.

What women want

There has been little talk of progressive measures to advance women’s economic independence and social and political autonomy, such as protecting employment and reproductive rights; equality in parenting; providing publicly funded care for children, older people, and those with complex needs; and non-discriminatory, integrated taxation and social protection regimes.

I laid down proposals along these lines in a new paper, which draws on proposals already in the mix from the likes of the Scottish government’s expert group on welfare to have a social protection system that invests in the wellbeing the individual for a lifetime.

The Scottish Women’s Budget Group, a lobbying group which I convene that aims to promote gender equality within the national budget process, has also issued a statement highlighting key priorities for women that are missing from the formal debate. These include fair and progressive taxation of individuals and not households; gender analysis of public spending and recognising that investing in care provision and preventing violence against women benefits everyone.

The group argues that public policy should reflect in its economic modelling the “realities of women’s lives, including their role in unpaid care and reproductive labour”. We emphasise the enduring inequalities in the labour market and publicly funded training. For instance analysis has shown that Scotland’s modern apprenticeship scheme leads to persistent segregation of men and women. Specialists at Stirling University, within the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland project, have ploughed similar furrows.

How the policies measure up

Little of this is reflected in the referendum campaign. The proposals from Scottish Labour’s devolution commission do not offer any detail or evidence of consideration of these issues, for example. In its final report, “Powers for a Purpose”, the limited references to women are mainly concerned with equality of representation on public and corporate boards. This is necessary, but it is a limited view of progressive measures to advance gender equality.

The childcare proposals in the Scottish government’s independence White Paper do offer a significant opportunity for progressive policy change. It is rightly concerned with re-framing childcare from a women’s issue to considering it as key to economic development and growth. Recommendations in Labour’s devolution commission report for expanding childcare facilities are welcome too, though they fall short of offering a more expansive and flexible approach to state-funded childcare as part of the economic infrastructure of Scotland.

While the devolution commission recommendations include important possibilities for progressive taxation and remedying some of the regressive measures introduced by the current Westminster coalition, there is little analysis of their potential gender impact. Women are disadvantaged by tax systems that implicitly incentivise traditional types of single/primary earner families rather than dual-earner households. This also needs to be considered by the Scottish government in relation to Revenue Scotland, the agency that will administer the changes to the tax system that are coming down the line. Gender analysis needs to be built in from the outset of this institution to avoid entrenching future discrimination.

In short, there is much of vital importance that is missing from what both sides are saying in relation to women. Formal politics and the internal party processes seem to be failing to build in an understanding and a response to the persistent inequalities that we experience. Both sides are missing an opportunity that could carry them to victory next month. And whatever the outcome, we need to wake up to the key challenges after the referendum to make progressive changes for women.

The Conversation

Angela is Convenor of Scottish Women’s Budget Group and a member of the UK Women’s Budget Group and European Gender Budgeting Network. She is a Board Member of Engender.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Undergraduate Essay Competition Winners Announced!

The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group is delighted to announce the winners of our annual Undergraduate Essay Competition. This year’s judge, Professor Francesca Gains (University of Manchester), noted the impressive quality of the essay submissions, stating: ‘the standard of entries was incredibly high with all 11 of the essays submitted demonstrating a command of the literature they addressed and confident critical analysis of subjects which ranged from “The Industrial Vagina”; the banning of pornography; gender and climate change; gender and development; the gendering of criminology; and the gendered culture of Parliament. Each of these essayists should be commended for their excellent work.’

Our 2014 winners are:

1st Prize: Ellen Friend (University of Bristol) ‘Hunting Witches: Media Representations of “Non-Compliant” Woman MPs’

The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Professor Sarah Childs) links literatures on the media framing of women politicians (creating desirable gendered norms) with the analysis of the historic role of witch hunts in punishing trangressors of gendered norms. This part of the paper is very well-written with a strong line of argument that media treatment of women MPs who transgress gendered norms can be seen as a contemporary witch hunt. What, however, makes this paper worthy of first prize is the empirical work presented to illustrate this argument which drew on an analysis of the media reporting on the resignation of Maria Miller MP from Cabinet. This analysis, and the skill with which it is presented is very impressive at undergraduate level. Taken together the critical and creative application of theory to evidence provided a convincing case study on a subject of considerable contemporary relevance.’

2nd Prize: Rhian Williams (University of Leeds) ‘To what extent is Butler’s account of gender performativity helpful for understanding contemporary feminist politics?’

The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr. Jonathan Dean) addressed the question with both nuance and precision. It demonstrated outstanding critical writing skills of publication standard. It is beautifully and confidently argued and was a pleasure to read.’

Congratulations Ellen and Rhian!!!

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Depoliticisation and the Father’s Clause parliamentary debates

Originally posted on Policy and Politics Journal:

Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins and Fran Amery

Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins and Fran Amery

Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins and Fran Amery, from the University of Birmingham, use work on in vitro fertilisation to think through depoliticisation. The full article  on the subject – (De)politicisation and the Father’s Clause parliamentary debates – along with the rest of the special issue of Policy & Politics on depoliticisation, is available free throughout May.

Depoliticisation, in simple terms, involves disavowing political responsibility, or persuading the public that one is no longer responsible for particular decisions, with the result that deliberation and choice are restricted. Crucially, as the literature has identified, choices are still being made – e.g. politicians may retain mechanisms for indirect control – but they are concealed.

Studies of (de)politicisation often conceptualise it as a function of government and tend to focus on economic and monetary policy (a classic example is the devolution of monetary policy to the Bank…

View original 644 more words

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2 Lectureships at University of Stirling

The University of Stirling is recruiting two new Lecturers in Politics. One is a lectureship in Political Economy and one is a lectureship in Comparative European Politics.

Women are especially encouraged to apply.

For more details, see this useful advice from Professor Paul Cairney, who is the pre-interview contact point.

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New women for a new Sinn Féin? The 2014 European Elections in the Republic of Ireland

PSA Women and Politics Member Claire McGing (National University of Ireland, Maynooth) reflects on the 2014 European Elections in the Republic of Ireland, and asks whether we are seeing the emergence of a ‘new’ (and feminized) Sinn Féin.

**

Recent studies document the increasing feminisation of political parties with a long-standing ‘woman problem’. Sarah Childs and Paul Webb (2010) detail how the Conservative leadership in the UK sought to feminise itself after losing considerable female support to Labour. Meanwhile, Sarah Wiliarty (2010) examines the strategies of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), one of Germany’s major ‘catch all’ parties, to better appeal to women. This emerging field of scholarship is hugely important to our understanding of the (changing) gendered nature of political institutions.

Ireland’s only cross-island party, Sinn Féin, has had a persistent problem with women voters, particularly in the Republic. Sinn Féin’s associations with the armed struggle in Northern Ireland, and an historically male-dominated leadership, turned women ‘off’ the party. History continues to plague the organisation post-conflict – three weeks ago, for example, leader Gerry Adams was arrested in connection with the murder of Jean McConville in 1972.

Traditionally, Sinn Féin’s core southern support has come from young men of a leftist ideological orientation. To become a major political force in the Republic – even a future contender for government – party strategists would have to appeal to a broader demographic, most importantly women. Though far from gender parity, candidate tickets across the island became more equal from the mid-2000s, while rules were changed to better integrate women into internal party positions. The election of former MEP and current Dublin-based parliamentarian, Mary Lou McDonald, as party Vice-President in 2009 also helped. The party’s rank-and-file membership has risen to around one-third women over the last three years, which many in the party attribute to McDonald’s influence. But the party still struggled to win over the wider female electorate. The party’s presidential candidate in October 2011, Deputy First Minister in the North and former IRA chief Martin McGuinness, came third in the race but polled particularly poor with women.

Last week in the European elections, Sinn Féin seems to have discovered its winning formula – running ‘new’ women with little, to no, electoral experience. Three of the party’s four candidates on the island were women. Incumbent Martina Anderson ran in Northern Ireland and was elected on the first count, topping the poll. The party had no sitting MEPs in the three constituencies across the border. Matt Carthy, a town and county councillor in Monaghan who ran in Midlands North West, was the most high profile of the three southern candidates. In Dublin the party ran Lynn Boylan. She unsuccessfully contested the 2007 general election and 2009 local elections at the other end of the country in South Kerry and, though an active member of the party, had little profile in the Dublin area before her selection. Meanwhile, media worker Liadh Ni Riada in the South constituency also has a history of grassroots’ activism in the party, but never before ran in an election.

Just a week before the election, the gender voter gap persisted. An opinion poll for the Sunday Times showed Carthy the second most popular candidate with men at 15 per cent support, compared to just 7 per cent with women. In Dublin Boylan polled 23 per cent of men’s intended first preferences and 15 per cent with women. At this point the gap was much less significant in the South where Ní Riada seemed the most unlikely of her colleagues to take a seat – 11 per cent support from men and 8 per cent from women.

But considerable numbers of women across the country were still undecided as to how they would vote – 29 per cent in Midlands North West, 33 per cent in Dublin and as high as 37 per cent in the South, each figure considerably outranking men.

And where did much of their support on May 23rd go? To Sinn Féin. RTE’s exit poll shows that while Carthy increased his share of the female vote by 4 percentage points, Ni Riada doubled it to 16 per cent and Boylan’s rose to 23 per cent. In the final week of the campaign, women in these constituencies seem to have left their old grudge towards Sinn Féin behind and supported women without the historical ‘baggage’.

Overall Boylan topped the Dublin poll, winning 24 per cent of the vote and was elected on the third count. Ni Riada came second in the South on 19 per cent and took the second seat, marginally out-performing her more experienced colleague Carthy who won the third seat with 18 per cent support.

So, by running two ‘fresh’ women candidates for Europe, Sinn Féin more or less closed its gender gap in this election and widened its appeal more broadly. The personality-driven nature of European elections in Ireland, where party affiliation tends to matter less, likely helped.

Boylan and Ni Riada – new women for a new Sinn Féin? There is room for an in-depth study on the party’s gendered marketing and electoral success.

Lynn Boylan

Lynn Boylan MEP [Source: http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/27904]

liada ni riada

Liadh Ní Riada [Source: http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/27886%5D.

About the Author

Claire McGing lectures in political geography at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. She has published research nationally and internationally on gender in Irish politics, north and south. She can be contacted at claire.mcging@nuim.ie.

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