Feature Tuesday: Gender Inequality in Parliament

By Holly Lennon

It’s going to be okay ladies; Samantha Cameron has got our back.

Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken out about the need to get more women into senior roles – a problem his wife has pressured him to address. The Conservative party, British business and the judiciary need to do more, the coalition leader has said.

As it stands men are over-represented with a staggering 75% majority in the Commons, meaning three out of four MP’s are male.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the UK manages to come only joint 60th in the world for political gender equality. And it is not just in studies that our inequalities are evident, various sexist comments made by our elected representatives have been flying around Twitter recently.

When MSP Murdo Fraser learned that the wife of former Liberal leader Lord Steel had declared herself pro-independence he tweeted: “Why is Lady Steel (apparently) pro-independence? Is he not master in his own house?”

Similarly, Austin Mitchell Labour MP launched a verbal attack against former Conservative MP Louise Mensch, tweeting: “Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics.”

It begs the questions of why would women want to be involved in politics if they are likely to face such misogynist bile from their colleagues?  Government should be a place for forward thinking individuals who want to lead the way towards a better and more equal Britain, not backward, stuffy middle aged men.

Cameron’s claims aren’t exactly new either – he promised a ‘new make-up’ of the Conservative party back in 2005 and hasn’t muttered a word on the matter since. A few false promises later and the number of women in Cabinet is at a 10-year low while the Oxford ‘elite’ and Philosophy, Politics and Economics graduates are ruling the roost.

I spoke to Labour MP Cathy Jamieson who is among those unconvinced by Cameron’s speech , she said – “I do find it strange that the PM apparently shows concerns for not enough women in politics then fails to appoint many women to his Cabinet… Having been the Justice Minister in Scotland and now a Shadow Treasury Minister (areas where traditionally men have been appointed) I know that it is possible to make changes, but it needs Party leaders who are prepared to act not just talk a good game.”

It’s not only in politics that gender equality is trailing behind – the Sex and Power 2013 report published by Counting Women In revealed that other areas of society are falling behind too such as the Judiciary, the police and the media.

Jessica McCabe, a Politics graduate and lecturer spoke to me about her opinion: “Progress to get women into higher positions has been a painfully slow process and it is not getting any better. Traditionally politics has been male dominated but with women becoming increasing more educated, it’s the country that’s losing out.”

Cameron’s comments have opened a door to a whole trail of arguments about female representation, or lack of it.

It is a sad projection of our country that women have to work hard, sometimes harder than men, and will still not be able to reach a position that should be firmly in their grasp. It also serves as a bad example for future generations that isolating women from positions of power is acceptable.

Hopefully Samantha will make the most of her own power and give us all a hand up – you can do it Sam!

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