Tag Archives: gender balance

More women in elected office will help tackle harassment and bad behaviour

Women have faced sexual exploitation and harassment since time immemorial. But today, something different is happening. Sex pests, gropers, untamed rapists, physical and mental abusers are being ‘outed’ and exposed by media outlets as they are named and shamed.

So, Michael Fallon has fallen on his sword. If all of the gossip is to be believed, then more will follow. It brings not only the individual into disrepute, but the system too, that allows those individuals to behave as they do, with impunity.

He says his behaviour of ten years ago is not acceptable today. I have news for him. It wasn’t acceptable then, either.

The abuse of women is a deep seated problem in our politics and our society. It is no wonder that so few women choose to stand for elected office at any level, as a recent report by the Fawcett Society pointed out.

Parliament, the centre of law making designed to protect the innocent, the young, the vulnerable from sexual  abuse, has shown itself incapable of protecting those within its own walls. The Westminster Village, where power and access to power seems able to protect perpetrators and where  party whips seemingly refuse to take action to curtail inappropriate and sometimes criminal, behaviour, has to change.

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Come to the future women MPs weekend!

The Campaign for Gender Balance (CGB) and the Diversity & Talent Support Team are pleased to announce that this year’s Future Women MPs Weekend will be held on Saturday 4 – Sunday 5 March 2017 at the Jurys Inn Hotel in Milton Keynes.

Future Women MPs weekend is an intensive residential training weekend for any aspiring female MPs within the party; whether you are already an approved candidate or are yet to take that initial first step, this is the perfect way to kick start your journey to Westminster. Jo Swinson, Tessa Munt and Jenny Willott all started their successful quests for a seat in Parliament at a FWMPs Weekend, and so could you!

As well as expert advice on your political career you will also receive:

  • Information and advice on all aspects of the process from selection to standing for Parliament
  • Personalised advice and guidance from top party trainers and representatives
  • A chance to ask any burning questions and address any concerns you may have
  • A fantastic opportunity to network and make useful contacts with other aspiring women within the party
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Equality motion 15 years on

Spring Conference Agenda 2016Back in Autumn 2001, we in the Liberal Democrats had the opportunity to take action to improve the gender balance of our parliamentary party.

Among those who spoke out against was a young woman who declared that she did not need help to be elected as a female MP. She insisted she would manage it by herself. I spoke to her after the debate and pointed out to her that in 20 years time, when the gender balance of our parliamentary party has barely improved, and once again, a young woman, who today is not yet born, stands up she insists that she doesn’t need positive discrimination, she will get elected all by herself, I predict she will be as angry with that young woman as I am with her today.

Posted in Op-eds | 34 Comments

Casual sexism undermines the drive for gender balance

“Bright, intelligent and brave” those are the words that Willie Rennie used to describe me in his speech to Conference. My direct messages on twitter were somewhat different. I had to disable the function to receive messages from anyone but my followers – but that didn’t stop those who already followed me. One man even suggested I’d made up the story for the attention. Because that’s all women’s experiences are to some men. Nothing but a ploy to get attention from men in any form of power.

The same people cry out “We need more women in politics but in a fair way and we need a meritocracy” and “We don’t need positive action, we need to encourage more women to put themselves forward”.

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Baroness Lindsay Northover writes…Our MPs must include women as well as men

We are an internationalist party.  We believe in human rights.  Our constitution commits us to equality, as well as liberty and community.

So how can it be that we, the Lib Dems of all parties, have absolutely no women MPs?  Zero.  0.0%.

Round the world, countries and parties have addressed the paucity of women in elected positions. Our sister parties have done so. We have a history of trying to do so – but trying is not the same as succeeding.  That must change now. I am extremely glad that our Party President, Sal Brinton, and our party leader, Tim Farron, are making clear that change must happen.

The SDP and then the Lib Dems led with affirmative action until the late 1990s.  Then Labour sailed past us with women-only shortlists.  They transformed their party – and the UK Parliament. Now their Commons party is 44% women.  Even the Conservatives are almost 21%.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 54 Comments

Who runs the World?

I had an absolutely brilliant day on Thursday at the first ever national Scottish Conference organised by the Women 50/50 Campaign and Engender entitled Who runs the World.

Women from all over the country gathered in Edinburgh’s MacDonald Hotel to discuss politics, the media, getting involved in councils and public appointments and ensuring that all areas of our public and political life had at least 50% women running them. There was a keynote speech from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who said that the Women 50/50 campaign was one of the most significant campaigns in Scotland today.

I’m going to write in more detail about some of the sessions later but here are some of the highlights.

How sexism stops women fulfilling their ambitions

There were two panel sessions during the day. The first, in the morning, discussed participation in and portrayal of women in the media. One of the journalists on the panel, Gina Davidson, told us how she had wanted to the crime reporting job on the paper she was working for. She was turned down for that and given health. Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon had come into Parliament desperate to get on the Audit Committee. Her request was denied by the leadership and she ended up with health, a subject that she knew nothing about. Having said that, she has developed quite an affinity with it – she intends to spend her retirement volunteering for a mental health project. Even so, women are often directed into areas traditionally seen as theirs.

Working across parties

It’s great when women from all parties get together. We find out that we share a lot of the same frustrations and come across the same behaviours across politics. There was some talk on whether there should be a formal Women’s Caucus at Holyrood, something that the MSPs there thought could be useful. There are already examples of cross party working. Labour leader Kezia Dugdale talked about having a quiet word with then Employment Minister Angela Constance (also on the panel) after she’d noticed that all the photos on the construction page of Skills Development Scotland showed men wearing hard hats. Angela went and got it changed.

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LDVideo: The first day in office of a Liberal Prime Minister

This is not the stuff of far flung fantasy. This actually happened, this week, in Canada, to a Liberal Party that’s fought its way back from devastating election defeats.

Here are two things that you should watch and take heart from.

First of all, a 24 minute behind the scenes video filmed by CBC of Justin Trudeau’s first day in office. In parts it has the feel of an episode of The West Wing, but our absolute favourite moment is when he puts down the reporter for being disparaging about the Cabinet travelling on a bus, reminding him that this is how many Canadians get to work. Enjoy.

Secondly, his great response when asked why he’d produced a gender balanced Cabinet. “Because it’s 2015.” By half way through the second decade of the 21st century, you would expect equality and it’s great that he (and Nicola Sturgeon) have set such good examples while remembering that Nick Clegg couldn’t even put one woman in the UK Cabinet when he had the chance.

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I am not my gender

 

I’ve written about this on the Lib Dem Voice before so I apologise if I’m repeating myself but once again we’re discussing the idea that we need to get more women into politics as parliamentarians. Once again I’ll repeat myself in saying that this is not something I disagree with. But to have Willie Rennie say “I know many in the party instinctively do not favour positive action but I need to be frank with you. Nothing else has worked.” is actually incredibly concerning for me.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 26 Comments

Willie Rennie to highlight gender balance in his Conference speech

We know that Willie Rennie is determined to improve the appalling gender balance record of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. He has to persuade a party which has historically rejected any proposals for positive action in candidate selection to adopt proposals to be drawn up by a working group made up of himself, Jo Swinson, Sophie Bridger, Sheila Ritchie and Fred Mackintosh. The ultimate aim is for half of Scotland’s Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to be women within 6 years.

The proposals will be debated at the Scottish Party’s Spring Conference just a few weeks before next year’s Holyrood elections. You can’t accuse Willie of not being willing to take a risk. He will be talking about it in Saturday’s speech to Autumn Conference too:

I want our party to change.

All our MPs in the United Kingdom are men. And four out of our five MSPs are men too.

I know many in the party instinctively do not favour positive action but I need to be frank with you.  Nothing else has worked.

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What the 2015 Sex and Power report has to say about the Liberal Democrats

The 2015 Sex and Power report published by the Counting Women In coalition came out this week. It looks in detail at the number of women candidates put forward by each party and the number of MPs elected.

It’s not fun to read if you’re a Liberal Democrat for obvious reasons. It’s not just that we have an all white middle aged male party in the Commons, it’s that we’re not making nearly enough progress to redress the imbalance. The proportion of women in our target seats should be much higher than 50/50 if we are serious about improving gender balance.

What’s particularly galling is a graph that shows that our number of women MPs elected peaked in 1987 and we’ve been going yo-yoing ever since at a much lower level.

Lib Dem graph from Sex and Power Report 2015

This is what the report had to say about us:

Posted in News | Also tagged | 38 Comments

A woman’s place at Conservative Party Conference – walking with Dave, not talking on panels

Two interesting reports from Conservative Party Conference. First, Isabel Hardman writes for the Spectator that new MPs, many of them highly qualified professional people, are not taking kindly to being put on a rota for walking with David Cameron between buildings. Yes, dear readers, such a thing actually existms.

It appears that the women are none too pleased at being used as “arm candy” while the men are annoyed at being excluded:

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 107 Comments

Jo Swinson to take part in Willie Rennie’s gender balance working group

Willie Rennie has announced the four members of his working group into improving gender balance which he announced last month. He made it clear that he wants to see the party adopt a raft of measures including all women shortlists. Today he met with the Women 50/50 campaign to discuss improving gender balance.

What’s interesting about the make-up of his working group is that it includes people who have historically been sceptical about measures such as all women shortlists. If they support his plans, it will be a very clear message to the party that it is time for serious change. I would be very surprised if they didn’t come up with other measures, such as intensive support for the campaigns of female candidates. They should make sure that they consult LGBT Plus Lib Dems to ensure that the plan that emerges is fully inclusive for transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid and non-binary people.  Steering clear of long-term proponents of procedural measures to achieve gender balance may well be a clever move by Willie.

The members of the working group are:

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Willie Rennie backs all women shortlists

Willie Rennie has announced that he supports the use of all women shortlists and quotas to improve the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ appalling record on gender balance. He is to lead a group which will draw up specific proposals for the 2019 European, 2020 Westminster and 2021 Holyrood elections.

The Scottish Party looked on in shock when members in the North East did not place highly effective Justice Spokesperson at the top of the list when it was selected at the end of last year. Since then, and particularly following the General Election, there have been strong calls for much stronger action on gender balance. Willie has consulted widely within the party and he announced his plans at the Scottish Party’s and Scottish Liberal Democrat Women’s Everyday Sexism Open Mic event in Edinburgh yesterday.

The Working Group to be led by Willie will consider all options including:

•         All women shortlists

•         Making gender a part of the party’s electoral strategy

•         Quota systems

Willie said:

I have lost patience with the current system and its inability to ensure proper representation of women.  It is now time to take the necessary action to deliver change.

A fresh start for the Liberal Democrats requires us to change.  We need to be more reflective of the people we seek to represent and to perform at our best we need to deploy our best people to make the case for our cause.

Despite an abundance of talented women the party has been unable to put enough in positions to get elected.   It is difficult to make the case for opportunity for everyone when only one of our parliamentarians is a woman.

Twenty years ago my party agreed in the Constitutional Convention to work towards a gender balance in our Scottish Parliamentary representation. Yet since the Scottish Parliament was created we have elected no more than two women at the four elections to Holyrood.   I determined to finally deliver the commitment made to the Constitutional Convention.

Encouragement and organisational support is simply insufficient to overcome the barriers to electing women.

That is why I will lead a working group to finalise proposals to put to the Spring Conference of the Scottish Liberal Democrats that will break down those barriers and increase the representation of women Liberal Democrats in Parliament.

It is my intention that the new arrangements will be in place for the European Election in 2019 and will also apply to the 2020 General Election and 2021 Scottish Parliamentary Election.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , , , and | 57 Comments

Are the Liberal Democrats any closer to embracing all-women shortlists?

Womens shortlistsIt’s nearly 31 years since I joined the SDP. When I was first involved, a hot topic of conversation was how to improve the representation of women in the House of Commons. At that point, there were just 23 female MPs, or 3.5% of the total.  We are still having these discussions today. Now there are 22%, but the total has only risen by 4% in the last 3 elections. The biggest leap we have ever had came in 1997 when the numbers doubled from 60-120, with more than half …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 132 Comments

Jenny Willott to become the first female Liberal Democrat minister to attend Cabinet

jenny willottThere are many people in the party who would like to see the Liberal Democrats with at least one female Cabinet Minister on a permanent basis. There are plenty strong candidates, not least Jenny Willott and Jo Swinson.

We will have to wait a little longer for that, but this week, Jenny Willott will be there to make a presentation on Coalition efforts to close the gender pay gap. She will also attend future meetings when issues affecting women are discussed.  The Independent has the story:

In her new role secured

Posted in News and Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 4 Comments

Vince Cable “considers all female shortlists for city firms.” Really?

Yesterday’s Guardian ran a story which said that Vince Cable was considering all female shortlists for the boards of FTSE companies.

That headline was  at this stage over-egging that particular pudding. All he is doing is asking the Equality and Human Rights Commission to advise whether such a move would be legal.

That was in fact the eighth of ten recommendations in a report by Charlotte Sweeney who has worked has head of diversity for top banks, which reviewed the effectiveness of the Government’s voluntary code for city headhunters. It’s worth having a look at the whole report which is available …

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LibLink: David Heath: Electorate has casting vote on number of female MPs

Just two weeks after the excellent Sarah Yong was selected to fight his Somerton and Frome constituency next year, retiring MP David Heath has been writing in the Frome Standard about the need for more women in Parliament.

He will be slightly red-faced to have under-estimated even our lowly number of women in the MPs, saying we have five, rather than seven, but that doesn’t undermine the premise of his piece.

But I think there is still an issue for all political parties in ensuring that parliament better reflects the make-up of the country at large. Instead, there is a huge

Posted in LibLink | Also tagged , and | 2 Comments

Opinion: Women must stop stepping into the political shoes of men

It’s a cute piece of research for two reasons. It sits comfortably with what so many of us think, even if we don’t say it out loud. Yet it challenges every one of us.

University of Pennsylvania researchers have shown that women’s brains are wired from left to right – that’s linking logic with intuition. In men, the neural connections go from front to back. That strengthens their spatial and motor skills. This research suggests that those age old stereotypes are true. Overall men are better at reading maps and being single-minded when tackling a problem. Women are in general …

Posted in News | Also tagged | 47 Comments

Is Nick Clegg looking at all-women shortlists for 2020?

From today’s Independent:

Nick Clegg is planning to introduce all-women shortlists for the Liberal Democrats if not enough female candidates are selected in winnable seats in 2015.

The radical policy change, which will upset many activists who believe it would go against the party’s constitution, would be introduced in the next Parliament as many candidates have already been selected for the election in 18 months’ time.

Only 12 per cent of Lib Dem MPs are women, and there are none at all from ethnic minorities. Lib Dem sources said a number of “excellent” female and ethnic minority candidates have already been selected

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 43 Comments

Opinion: 20 years of going nowhere, Liberal Democrat gender balance in council elections

Twenty years of progress, followed by twenty years of stalling. That’s the overall picture of Liberal Democrat (and before that Alliance / Liberal Party) progress towards gender equality at local government elections, whether measured in terms of candidates or people elected.

Looking at local elections in England, a mere 20% of the Liberal Party’s candidates were female in 1973 and the figure was even lower, 18%, amongst those elected. By 1991 both figures had risen to 34%. Since then, however, the figures have bounced up and down around a long-term flat trend, with both hitting 30% in the latest figures for …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 18 Comments

Gender quotas get legal backing in Ireland

Interesting news from Ireland on the long-running question of male dominance of elected Parliamentary posts:

GENDER QUOTAS are set to become law after the Electoral Amendment (Political Funding) Bill 2011 passed all stages in the Dáil yesterday.

The legislation, which has yet to be signed by the President, will halve State funding to parties unless 30 per cent of their candidates at the next general election are women. This figure will rise to 40 per cent at subsequent general elections…

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged and | 5 Comments

The fallout from Chris Huhne’s resignation

I’ve been busy with the media yesterday and today giving my take on Chris Huhne’s resignation, so here are the two main highlights if you missed them:

Posted in News | Also tagged , , , , and | 2 Comments

Gender Equality and MPs – is our performance as bad as it looks?

I am very unhappy with the number of female Lib Dem MPs. 7 out of 57 is not good enough and we need to improve. The leadership programme which assists those from underrepresented groups to become candidates will hopefully help.

7/57 = 12.3%. So, less than an eighth of our MPs are women. The Conservatives have 48/307 = 15.6%, Labour 81/258 = 31.4%. Activists from the two other parties have pointed this out to me on numerous occasions. They are right to. It is embarrassing. We definitely need more female candidates. In 2010 we only had 134 (21.3%). The Conservatives had …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 32 Comments

Lynne Featherstone MP writes… We do not just elect individuals, we elect people to be members of a team

Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone writes a monthly column for one of her local newspapers. Here is the latest edition, looking at Parliamentary representation.

Our Parliament has come a long way in recent years. In fact, watching ‘The Iron Lady’ with Margaret Thatcher sticking out like a blue female sore thumb amongst the total male greyness of the then chamber – it reminded me of how recently in history this establishment was nearly all male.

However, despite real progress, it is still nowhere near reflecting the percentage of women in the country – and that is without even starting to talk about …

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The Lib Dem Candidates Leadership Programme – a participant’s view

Last weekend marked the official start of the Candidate Leadership Programme, with a residential training weekend in Greenwich. For many, this Programme marks an important shift in thinking to improve the diversity of our Parliamentary Party. I write this piece to give a participant’s point of view.

Despite efforts for years to get candidates from diverse backgrounds to become approved, sadly, and not without great effort on behalf of organisations such as the Campaign for Gender Balance (CGB), the result did not show in terms of elected Parliamentarians.

The Leadership Programme is designed to focus on the steps post-approval and selection, to …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 44 Comments

Opinion: Why the Lib Dems need all-women shortlists

In his Lib Dem Voice piece “Too male and too pale” – Why shortlists and the Leadership Programme are not the answer, Paul Head states that he is totally opposed to all-women shortlists (AWS) because they ‘ignore the real problem’ that this reflects in the party as a whole; and that we need to engage more with women and BAME people on a grassroots level and change from below.

This is a sensible argument, and is something that we should strive for. However, I believe that there is a place for AWS in the Liberal Democrats, despite the fact that …

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Opinion: None shall be enslaved by….maternity?

Nick Clegg bemoans the maleness and paleness of the Lib Dems and his sense of shame that our parliamentary party is 88% male seems genuine enough.

What is it about the culture of Lib Dems that has brought about this striking gender imbalance?

My own experience as a councillor and candidate is that being a (young, childless, solvent) woman is a huge advantage. When I was approved and selected in 2001 you could almost smell the desperation of the party to promote women. The glass ceiling – what was that?

But then I did what women do and I had children and …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 29 Comments

“All-Women Shortlists May Be Necessary, Senior Lib Dems Accept”

So reports the Huffington Post:

Senior Liberal Democrats have accepted that the party may need to resort to all-female shortlists or other tough measures to increase the representation of women and minority groups among its MPs…

Tim Farron MP … said that he was “utterly embarrassed” that only seven of the party’s MPs were women.

He said:

“Over the years we’ve had several debates on the crushing lack of women in the House of Commons, and our zero lack of representation from black and ethnic minority communities, and the debates we’ve always had are about the practical way to create equality and the

Posted in Conference | Also tagged , , and | 20 Comments

Opinion: “I don’t like them, you don’t like them… We have to have them”

This Saturday, Conference has the opportunity to show that Liberal Democrats are genuinely committed to achieving gender balance in our own distinctively liberal and democratic way.

Conference will debate an amendment which Jo Shaw and I have put forward to Mark Pack and Paul Tyler’s Lords reform motion. Our amendment builds on the approach taken by our party in the late 1990s, when one-off zipping was used to deliver a gender-balanced cohort of Lib Dem MEPs in the first PR elections to the European Parliament.

In an ideal world we wouldn’t need these kinds of measures. But with just 12% women …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Also tagged , , , , , , , , and | 14 Comments

Dinti Batstone writes… If not now, when?

Notice anything about this 5-minute BBC report on House of Lords reform? While it talks of ‘revolution in the air’, every interviewee is a white middle aged man.

Yet House of Lords reform could – if the Coalition chooses to make it so – prove a game-changing opportunity to promote the cause of gender balance at Westminster.

Our Commons party consists of just 12% women and the Commons as a whole barely 22%. The reasons for this are complex and different in each party, but electoral volatility and a leaky pipeline of female candidates are two major factors for the Liberal …

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    I never failed to be impressed by the sheer energy of Merlene and hats off for taking a crack at breaching the edifice that is...
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    A wag once commented "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." In 1798 Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth would bring famine...
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    Democracy needs more consultation and representation of mainstream opinion.
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    Well yes, Mark, but I was thinking of all the work one person had to do as well. radical idea - post them all on...
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    Suzanne, I entirely see your point, but can see an advantage to having them all in one place, especially for non-Liberal Democrat readers and those...
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    Dear Mark, but if the press office sent to people who asked for them ( and I presume someone at HQ is clever enough to...