Written by Annika Eade

In The News

Wanted: 325 women, start date 8 May

As the General Election draws closer, it’s never been more important to support the 50:50 campaign, says Annika Eade.

The campaign’s founder Frances Scott, right, with a supporter. Photo courtesy of the 50:50 Campaign.

The campaign’s founder Frances Scott, right, with a supporter. Photo courtesy of the 50:50 Campaign.

As a former recruitment consultant, I can tell you for a fact that if someone asked me to supply them with 325 people in less than three weeks, I’d probably come over all ‘plumber’ and start sucking air through my clenched teeth and shaking my head. If Parliamentary People – the imaginary MP recruitment consultancy firm I just invented – not only existed but was actually successful in achieving this task, how would a gender‐balanced House of Commons affect parliament’s priorities?

Imagine if important issues, such as the pay gap or sexism, suddenly had the weight of half of parliament behind them. Imagine if women didn’t have to start petitions to remove the tampon tax, have their mothers’ names included on marriage certificates or call for improvements to domestic violence legislation.

How better informed would parliament’s discussions be about abortion rights, childcare provision, or banning FGM in the UK? A veritable mille‐feuille of problems, from which I have just flaked off a tiny layer, would be solved in this metaphorical lightning‐speed, gender‐specific, political talent acquisition. Anyone would think I was painting a picture of a Utopia, a joyful and generous paradise where everyone is heard and everything is shared, rather than wanting straightforward equality. After all, women are a 51 per cent majority of the UK’s population but 77 per cent of our last parliament were men.

Caitlin Moran made an excellent point recently that countries which persecute women, homosexuals, ethnic minorities or other groups are not only committing terrible atrocities but are whittling down their own human resources. The UK is currently the fifth most educated country in the world and the ninth richest. Yet this First World country’s parliament continues to leave half the country’s potential political talent woefully unrecognised and under‐used.

Management consultant McKinsey has provided evidence that diversity on company boards improves corporate success. Ex‐Business Secretary Vince Cable has been encouraging businesses to have more women on their boards because of the benefits it brings. So why isn’t this happening in politics?

“Anyone would think there just weren’t that many women throwing their hat into the political ring and standing for election. However, this year more than 1000 women are standing.”

David Cameron has called the issue “fantastically important”. Ed Miliband said that having more women in the House of Commons had “greatly improved the lives of millions of women across the country.” When questioned about describing parliament as “too male and pale”, Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s response was that quotas may have to be considered to increase the number of women MPs, as well as those from ethnic minorities. Of course, Parliamentary People would have provided Nick with the ultimate solution here because, and this really is groundbreaking, ladies can be ethnic too.

Anyone would think there just weren’t that many women throwing their hat into the political ring and standing for election. However, this year more than 1000 women are standing.

So until Parliamentary People becomes a (somewhat unfeasible) reality, what is the solution? It’s easy and everyone can do it: sign the 50:50 Parliament petition. It’s calling for party leaders from across the political spectrum to make a proper plan for better gender balance, one way or another.

The petition also states, “women have 51 per cent of the experience and expertise. We would like men and women, the best of both, in roughly equal numbers, forging legislation for the future together, building a better society for everyone.”

The 50:50 campaign was founded by Frances Scott just over a year ago. It has already garnered a huge following, including organisations such as the Fawcett Society, National Alliance of Women’s Organisations, Feminism in London Conference, Stand Up For Women, as well as Dr Helen Pankhurst, actress Gemma Arterton and singer Paloma Faith.

Scott says: “Women are a majority in life but a minority in parliament. There seems to be some kind of structural problem. There have only ever been around 370 women MPs and there were 502 men in the last parliament. At the current rate it will take another 100 years to get equality. The 50:50 campaign doesn’t propose to know the answer; we simply want a debate in the House of Commons and for parliament to come up with a solution. Only around a quarter of MPs being women means there is unused potential.”

Fittingly, the aim of 50:50’s campaign is beautifully summed up by the words of Emmeline Pankhurst: “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.”

Sign the petition here and put equality onto the UK’s political agenda.

50:50 Parliament is having its Picnic at Parliament on Sunday. Sign up here.

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Written by Annika Eade

Annika is a mother and a writer, specialising in blogging and graphic novels. Caffeine essential.