BethMellor’s Weblog

Postgraduate journalism, news and views.

Chauvinism in Westminster

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Interviewing Emily Thornberry (Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury) last week was an interesting insight into the problems faced by women in positions of power.

It is a common preconception that Britain is more open-minded about gender equality than other countries because we have had a female Prime Minister, but according to the World League of Women in Parliament, Britain lags behind many developing nations when it comes to equal representation in Parliament. Britain is ranked in a shocking 69th place in this league, with only 19% of female MPs, and is beaten by Pakistan, Afghanistan and Rwanda, to name but a few.

To break this down further, of a total of 646 MPs in Britain, only 125 are women – 94 Labour, 17 Conservatives and nine Liberal Democrats.

Ms. Thornberry hinted that female MPs face more challenges because of the prevalence of a chauvinistic culture in Westminster. Female politicians, she said, are more likely to be judged based upon their life choices, their family lives and their appearance than male politicians.

Worryingly, a study by the Electoral Reform Society in June 2008 shows that women are still being passed over by local parties when they choose candidates for winnable seats. The report says: “If, as expected, the Conservatives increase their share of the vote at the next election, the number of women MPs will at best remain the same – and most likely fall.”

Lesley Abdela suggests in this article on the guardian website that a quota system may be the only way to increase the number of women in Parliament.

Some sort of quota may help, but it will do nothing to tackle the root of the problem: attitudes. We need to stop scrutinising the wardrobes of female politicians and questioning whether they are up to the job, and just let them get on with it. And, if they are competent, they should be able to run for winnable seats without facing the extra hurdle of Westminster’s misogynist mind-set.

One Response

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  1. Did you mean a ‘preconception’ or a ‘misconception’?

    The quota system argument is nonsensical in attempting to address any form of inequality – what is the inequality? Might not this perceived inequality simply be an expression of personal choice not to engage in a particular profession? Equality of opportunity is, of course, what should be fought for and one could argue that, for example, the daily parliamentary timetable denies many women the opportunity to participate in that profession simply because they could not fit it into a family lifestyle.

    Rhona Haslewood

    November 23, 2008 at 5:44 pm


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