Lorely Burt writes: We can’t call ourselves a democracy when men monopolise public life

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is ‘Be Bold for Change’ – this got me thinking about how we, as Liberal Democrats, can do our bit to help forge a better and more gender equal world. Of course, as a party we have already taken a great leap forward for the future to make sure we reflect the diversity of the country with the ‘Electing Diverse MPs’ motion passed almost a year ago. But as individuals what can we do to make sure that more women get involved and active in the party at every level?

It was less than six months ago that we, both men and women pulling together, managed to get Sarah Olney elected to Parliament. Like many of you there was a defining moment that made her join the Liberal Democrats and get stuck in, but we have to remember that not all women will put themselves forward like that and some may need more encouragement than others. We all have a responsibility to reach out to those women we think would make great Liberal Democrat elected representatives, and let’s face it we can all think of one or two. The evidence is clear – if a woman is approached to stand then she is most likely to consider it.

Change will not happen overnight, it will take all our efforts to make these incremental changes. Let us never be complacent, as this year’s theme reminds us – we must be bold. We are a country that prides itself on being progressive and inclusive – yet Parliament, our country’s highest decision-making body, is only 30% female.

Women make up over half of the population – it is common sense that they should be involved at every stage of the democratic process. Why should the rules that govern us be made without us? It’s a lot like Europe – if we are not sitting around the table when decisions are made our voice will simply not be heard. This is not because there is a cabal of vindictive men looking to oppress us, although I can think of a few who probably are – Philip Davies anyone…, but just by the virtue that men will look at things from a different perspective and bring different experiences to bear on the decisions that they make. They don’t think from a female perspective.

With Brexit, Trump and who knows what next, now more than ever we need to strengthen and entrench the representation of women within public life. Diversity, inclusion and equality are a not a burden and it’s time to stop seeing them as such. We cannot call ourselves a true democracy when men continue to monopolise public life and when women are still fighting to gain an equal footing to their male counterparts. If change is going to come we must all demand it; because when women are ignored, disregarded and under-utilised we all lose out, so let us be bold for change.

* Lorely Burt was the Liberal Democrat MP for Solihull until 2015 and is now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • Allistair Graham 8th Mar '17 - 12:56pm

    What we need are competent individuals – male or female – representing the electorate. Quotas are illiberal, and designed to cause division and resentment rather than “reflect diversity”. My MP is a female. As a male, do I feel represented? Well, if my MP were a male I would not feel any more represented.

    I don’t agree that men monopolise public life. The facts just do not bear this out. Let’s look at the leadership of political parties in the UK – both national and devolved. Many of the parties are led by women. For example, there are six leaders of the five political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament (the Green party has two joint leaders). Four of these six leaders are women, and three parties dominate in the parliament – all of which are led by women. The DUP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party in NI are led by women. Plaid Cymru in Wales and, of course, the national Conservative party are led by women. Our Prime Minister is, of course, a woman. I cannot believe that all this is mere tokenism.

    “This is not because there is a cabal of vindictive men looking to oppress us…”

    Correct. Our democratic system is clearly entirely non-sexist. That only 30% of MPs are women may be regrettable, but if only 30% were men would you be writing a similar article claiming that women monopolise public life? Be honest….

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Mar '17 - 5:20pm

    To say men actually monopolise public life implies they do it themselves, that men are part of a cabal of powerful people.

    Utter claptrap! Men are successful and not , privileged and rarely, happy or unhappy, individuals not a group.

    I am fed up of so called Liberals pushing divisive and group think phrases, especially from those who have barely struggled compared to some , men, or women !

    And that includes Miriam Gonzalez Durantez !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Mar '17 - 5:53pm


    I appreciate that Baroness Burt is not meaning what I allude to, and might not have picked the headline, which does unfortunately imply what she herself said she does not believe is so, the cabal she and , then, I refer to !

  • Jennie Rigg 8th Mar '17 - 6:55pm

    Great article, Lorely.
    Thank you for writing it.

  • I just don’t get it.
    It’s almost as if the Lib Dem’s absolutely revel in the kick they get from being divisive and creating identities just for the sake of it?
    Half the population are women – yes they are. I work with lots – they are some of the most competent inspiring humans I know, I’m married to one who is fantastically competent. loving and contributes hugely to her community as do I.
    Where have all these women suddenly come from today? Article after article.
    Where are you all when other debates are taking place when your input would be greatly appreciated by name at least.
    We are all just people – loving, intelligent, giving, doing our best to make lives for ourselves and our loved one and our wider community.
    Why oh why must we all keep giving each other special labels as if to affirm our worth with each other.
    Can we not just be like minded people who share dreams hopes and common aims and work together to achieve them?

  • Should say be me at least (no idea how predictive text decide ‘name’ would be more appropriate 🙂

  • Allistair Graham 8th Mar '17 - 9:36pm

    @Andrew Hickey

    You have responded to my comment with a mere assertion. Now try presenting an argument, preferably backed up with some evidence.

  • yet Parliament, our country’s highest decision-making body, is only 30% female.
    It is sad to see good news being misrepresented!

    Yes, we don’t have a ‘perfect’ representative democracy, however, a quick look at the data: http://www.ukpolitical.info/FemaleMPs.htm shows a success story that we should be proud of!

    From the table, it is clear that Tony Blair’s all women shortlist decision back in the mid-1990’s has had a lasting impact, with the numbers of women being elected steadily increasing (after a wobble in 2001) to the 29% in 2015. Also the table shows the increasing numbers of women standing as candidates. So I would suggest we have a good news story, which as yet doesn’t look like it has peaked.

    Yes, there is still some way to go, however, I take comfort from a report that indicated that once a 25% threshold was crossed people’s perceptions of what was “man’s work” began to change and begin to regard the new situation as normal. Thus what I suggest is needed isn’t more “life is so unfair” stories but more, opportunities to show people that having women MP’s is business as usual. Extrapolating the trend, it would seem that we stand a reasonable chance of having circa 50% of MP’s being women in 2030.

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