The UK has fallen to 48th place globally for parliamentary representation with only 30% of MPs being women, says a new report by the Women and Equalities Committee.
The report says that the UK has fallen from 25th place in 1999 to 48th in the global ranking for representation of women in the lower or single legislative chamber.
It states that Government, Parliament and political parties all have a vital role in improving this, but that parties bear the main responsibility because they ultimately decide who they wish to field as candidates for general elections.
Committee Chair Maria Miller said: “A global ranking of 48th is shockingly low. We must rise to the challenge of being a world leader on women’s parliamentary representation.”
The report argues that political parties need to do much more to promote a fairer and greater proportion of women parliamentary candidates, and be transparent about their plans and their performance. The report recommends that parties should set out what they intend to do to increase the proportion of women in the House in 2020, including adopting ambitious targets for women candidates in ‘winnable’ seats.
It also calls on the Government to mandate changes if parties do not voluntarily meet targets it has agreed to achieve women’s full and equal participation under the Sustainable Development Goals and it says Parliament as an institution should actively encourage women to participate in democracy and continue to investigate ways of making the working environment of Westminster one that does not present unnecessary actual or perceived barriers to women’s participation.
The backdrop to the inquiry is the recently published Boundary Commission proposals for equalising the size of constituencies, which will reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. The report says that, while the boundary review itself need not result in a lower proportion of women MPs, the Committee believes that without intervention from the parties, regression may be an unintended consequence.
Maria Miller said: “We are calling on political parties to publicly set out the measures they plan to take to increase the proportion and number of women parliamentary candidates in 2020. We must ensure that previous positive trends do not stagnate or reverse. There is no room for complacency.”
The report says that all the main parties fielded significantly less than 50% women parliamentary candidates for the 2015 General Election and states that, if voluntary measures do not achieve sufficient changes, the Government should be prepared to legislate to achieve parity among candidates, including financial penalties for under-performance.
The Committee’s recommendations include calls for the Government to set a 45% target for representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030, for legislation in this Parliament on setting a statutory minimum proportion of female parliamentary candidates in general elections for each political party and sanctions for parties which fail to comply; and a statutory requirement for political parties to publish their parliamentary candidate diversity data for general elections, as set out in Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010.
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