Women face obstacles at every stage on the way to Parliament, particularly from ‘gatekeepers’ within the political parties, according to a new report.
The report, Strategies for Success: women’s experiences of selection and election in UK Parliament, concludes that women still experience multiple barriers to being selected as candidates simply because they are women, but it says asking women to stand does make a significant difference.
Women MPs are more likely than men to say that they decided to try to become an MP because someone asked them to. This was true of 75% of women MPs, but only 54% of male MPs. The research also uncovered gender differences when it comes to planning to run. Male MPs were twice as likely as women to have decided to run over six months before they were selected for their seat (40% compared to 18% for women) indicating that they are planning their political careers long before women are. Women are also less likely than men to perceive themselves as potential MPs.
The report finds barriers include the fact that women still meet resistance from local parties who have a preconceived idea of their ‘ideal candidate’ who is white, male, middle-class and able-bodied; women are still being asked questions about their marital status and their children; and many female candidates experienced abuse or harassment from the media, the public and from members of their own party.
It also found that some local parties subvert equality measures, that getting into Parliament requires money and time and women are less likely to have them and that personal networks and patronage matter more than merit in getting selected.
It says men are more likely than women to have the informal party experience or to have spoken at party meetings or conferences and that party organisation and culture can inhibit women from participating and progressing, particularly at the early stages, meaning they do not get the informal political experience they need.
Long and anti-social working hours were also cited by a number of MPs as being a problem including the expectation that you are available to constituents around the clock and the need to live in two places. The culture of Westminster was another perceived barrier.
The wide-ranging research included interviews with MPs and a survey with 113 MP respondents, analysis of public data on MPs’ careers, and for the first time in over a decade, focus groups with women who aspire to enter Parliament. It ranges across party lines and looks at the process of getting elected from beginning to end.
Sam Smethers, Fawcett Chief Executive said:“A century on from the first women standing for Parliament, our research shows that for many the ‘ideal candidate’ is still a white, able-bodied man.”
“The women whose voices we hear through this report share stories of discrimination within political parties that are completely unacceptable. Those who lead our parties must confront reality and change the way their institutions work.”
“Dame Laura Cox’s report [on bullying and harassment in Parliament] is a massive wake up call. But the best way to change parliamentary culture is to be there to drive that change so we urge women to come forward as candidates and create a parliament fit for the next 100 years. More than ever we need women in all their diversity in our politics.”
The Fawcett Society is joining forces with 50:50 Parliament, the Jo Cox Foundation and the Centenary Action Group to hold a number of events on 21st November – the anniversary of the passing of the legislation which permitted women to stand as MPs – asking MPs to #AskHertoStand and bring a woman interested in becoming an MP to parliament for the day.