Written by Lisa Beasley

Voices

Commons sense

Stand aside, Nigels: the women are coming, says 50:50 Campaign member Lisa Beasley.

The 50:50 campaign lobbying Parliament.

The 50:50 Parliament campaign lobbying at the Houses of Parliament.

According to the New Statesman there are more men called Nigel on certain committees in parliament than there are female MPs. Sigh, right?

All is not lost. If you want to be politically active, now is the best time. There are so many ways to be heard and seen. You can go big, Pussy Riot style, opt for something more flexible such as the work of 50:50 Parliament, or simply send a tweet using a hashtag like #BlackLivesMatter.

Clearly, new forms of communication brought about by modern life have given this current generation an effective platform to voice our ever-growing list of concerns – and to a wider audience. But we need to ask: what is most effective? We’re talking, but is anyone listening? Are those with the power paying attention? And what about that embarrassment of Nigels?

For those of you not yet aware of the work that the 50:50 Parliament campaign, founded by Frances Scott, is doing, let’s briefly run through the basics. 50:50 Parliament is an inclusive, cross-party campaign aspiring to better gender balance in parliament. It believes that the UK government should be representative of society.

“We want as many people as we can behind us, of all backgrounds: race, religion, immigration status, sexuality, class. We want every community in the UK to be represented. This is a basic requirement for democracy.”

Parliament houses a 459/191 split in favour of men: how is it that women make up 51 per cent of the population but only 29 per cent of the House of Commons? It doesn’t make sense. And the 50:50 team aren’t the only ones questioning these injustices (shout out to Sisters Uncut, Pussy Riot and Everyday Feminism and many more making their presence known).

Ever since feminism started as a movement, its various waves have been heavily criticised from the outside and the inside. Its crux remains the same though: equal and just treatment for women and men.

The recent film Suffragette serves as a reminder of our progress. Meryl Streep plays Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragettes and arguably one of the most important people of the 20th century. This marked the first wave of feminism in the UK: women went from having little political say at the start of the 1900s to making a necessary step towards equality in 1918 when those over 30 were enfranchised.

The suffragettes weren’t working alone: help came from minorities who are still discriminated against today. Indian princess Sophia Duleep Singh was fundamental in the British suffragette movement and helped the feminist movement in India at that time. We may be a century on, but 50:50 Parliament recognises that these problems are still around. We want as many people as we can behind us, of all backgrounds: race, religion, immigration status, sexuality, class. We want every community in the UK to be represented. This is a basic requirement for democracy.

Feminism’s second wave happened in the 1960s with the Guardian pinpointing 1963 as its beginning in the UK. The availability of contraception and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 saw gradual progress in addressing many gender issues, with legislators continuing to slowly move towards gender equality.

The third wave was kickstarted in the 1990s; think Spice Girls and consciousness-raising activism. Now, we’re in a fourth wave as feminists look to address and deconstruct issues that limit women. This is exactly what the 50:50 Parliament campaign is attempting to achieve. We want to question why we have educated, ambitious women who do not reach their full potential.

“How is it that women make up 51 per cent of the population but only 29 per cent of the House of Commons?”

The fight for gender equality shows no signs of quietening down. A few examples include Emma Watson, who is making excellent headway in the HeForShe campaign by speaking in the UN and calling out to men to realise their part to play in the progression of women.

Pussy Riot continue to make headlines globally, from their imprisonment in Russia for their political protests in 2011, to their more recent performance at Banksy’s Dismaland. Sisters Uncut also made the news earlier this month, demonstrating on the red carpet at the premiere of Suffragette to bring the discussion of domestic abuse to the forefront.

In a less radical approach, online magazine Everyday Feminism (part of The Everyday Feminism Project) debates issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia and other social injustices and has more than 300,000 followers on Facebook alone.

Here at 50:50 Parliament, we’ve gained more than 12,000 signatures on our online petition with celebrities such as Suffragette actress Carey Mulligan and comedian Ruby Wax sporting our 50:50 tee. That’s not to mention the ever-growing list of MPs, including Conservatives Amber Rudd and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who have supported the rise of women in government.

Carey Mulligan shows support for the 50:50 campaign at the premiere of Suffragette.

Carey Mulligan shows support for the 50:50 Parliament campaign at the premiere of Suffragette.

At 50:50 Parliament, we believe that all participation is worth its weight in gold. If you are unable to dedicate a lot of time but want to be heard, sign our petition at www.change.org/5050Parliament. If you want to be more active, join us at conferences, lectures and lobbying. For those who prefer a more subtle, fashion-conscious decision, check out our selection of tees and totes: www.etsy.com/shop/5050Parliament.

We know we’re part of a larger movement striving towards gender equality and better representation. We know that economies and politics work better when we are open to diversity. We need those in power to be behind us, because those in Parliament decide the laws we live by and we need to be able to influence those laws.

No matter what your style is, there is a movement to reflect your frustrations and aspirations for a more equal society. Political activism is everywhere. And thank goodness for that.

@Beasley_Bum
@5050Parliament

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Written by Lisa Beasley

Lisa Beasley is 25, based in Surrey and an active member of the 50:50 Campaign.