This UK campaign is working to close the politics gender gap

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • It will take145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics globally, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report.
  • In the UK, there are still twice as many male as female MPs.
  • Frances Scott launched the cross-party campaign 50:50 Parliament to call for gender equality in UK politics.
  • Here, she explains why we need more women in politics everywhere – and how to encourage more women to stand.

On the green benches inside London’s historic River Thames-side landmark, the Houses of Parliament, sit twice as many men as women.

“At the rate we’re going, it will take another 40 years before we have gender balance in our elected body, which is shocking,” says Frances Scott, the Founder & Director of 50:50 Parliament, a British cross-party campaign calling for gender equality in politics.

The situation is far from unique to the UK. Political Empowerment remains the biggest of four gender gaps globally, with only 22% closed so far, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021.

Women represent only 26.1% of some 35,500 parliament seats in the 156 countries covered by the index, and just 22.6% of over 3,400 ministers worldwide. In 81 countries, as of 15 January, there has never been a woman head of state.

a chart that shows which sectors of society have the biggest gender gaps
Political Empowerment is the biggest gender gap to close Image: Global Gender Gap Report 2021

Why do we need more women in politics?

Ensuring more women is key “because representation shapes policy,” says Scott, who set up 50:50 Parliament in 2013, when women were outnumbered 3:1. “Diversity leads to better decision-making, and, as Christine Lagarde said, it leads to less risky decision-making. In her opinion, there might not have been a financial crisis if we’d had more women on boards.”

Women need to have equal say, Scott continues, on issues from pandemics to climate change. “We are facing some of the biggest challenges that humanity has had to deal with, and half of humanity are women – we need to be involved in planning the future.”

Getting women involved benefits everyone, as UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has said: “No country prospers without the engagement of women. We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic, and political situations.”

Fair COVID-19 recovery

It’s especially true of 2021, when the economic impact of the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. Oxfam estimates the COVID-19 crisis has cost women globally at least $800 billion in lost income – the equivalent to the combined wealth of 98 countries.

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, called for governments to build more equal, more inclusive economies: “They must invest in a gender, racial and climate-just economic recovery that prioritizes public services, social protection, fair taxation, and ensure everyone everywhere has access to a free vaccine.”

Having a greater gender balance in government would help to ensure a fair recovery for all, believes Scott.

“We live in a world that has been designed by men for men, including our democratic structures. More women die in car crashes than men because seatbelts have been designed with the average man in mind, not the average woman,” she says.

“We’ve got to change our design strategy – and make sure that we’re including women as part of the picture. And when you’re trying to deal with a pandemic, when you have to address climate change, having women on board is really important.”

Getting more women into politics

There has been progress. The Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report found that negative trends in some large countries have been counterbalanced by advances in 98 smaller countries. Since the previous report, there are more women in parliaments, and Togo and Belgium elected their first female prime minister.

Since Scott set up 50:50 Parliament, there are now another 70 women at Westminster, she says. But the situation is not improving fast enough – and twice as many men as women ran in the UK’s local elections on 6 May.

a chart showing the gender split among westminister's main parliamentary parties
The gender split for candidates of the main parties at the May UK local government elections. Image: 5050 Parliament

Looking ahead

So how do we go about ensuring more women have a space at the tables of government?

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published suggested guidelines for political parties for including more women in 2012. These range from adopting internal quotas and allocating women with safe seats to providing training and greater media exposure to women.

But it’s also simply about just encouraging women to put themselves forward, says Scott, who runs an annual #AskHerToStand campaign.

“There’s evidence that women need to be asked three times before they will consider standing, whereas men who are politically engaged don’t even need to be asked. It all has something to do with imposter syndrome because it looks like an old boys’ club, that women don’t necessarily feel it’s their right to participate in.”

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Support network

Women who join the 50:50 Parliament network in the UK are given support, including from a ‘buddy’ who can share experiences of campaigning and dealing with online trolls. They can also attend weekly online meetings where they can get expert advice from women who have progressed in politics.

Men have a key role to play in levelling the playing field too, says Scott. “We need male allies, because men are the gatekeepers to many of these positions, so we need men to open the doors and help women win seats. It’s actually about building a better democracy for everyone.”

In the UK, there are also signs of progress for MPs who become parents, with proxy voting now possible. But Scott says it’s as much about modernizing attitudes as it is about modernizing parliament.

“For example, in Norway, which has better gender balance, they’ve legislated concerning parenting leave. When men become fathers, they get paid parenting leave, but if they choose not to take it, they don’t get the pay. And the result is that men have taken it, which has led to a huge improvement in family relationships, and a greater understanding about the needs of childcare.

“So a little bit like the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst said, we are trying to empower one half of the human race in order to free up the other half of the human race. It’s about working together to build a better democracy, that’s fit for purpose for the 21st century.”

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