The UK recently celebrated the centenary of women winning the right to vote, but crucially women couldn’t stand for election until later that year. The UK has never achieved gender balance in politics, that is, we have never had 50% female politicians, either in Westminster, the devolved Parliaments or at local Council level. Will we reach 50% by November this year, 100 years since women could first stand for election? No chance, but we need to keep pushing. This is how we do it.
This month, Londoners have two opportunities to attend free workshops that encourage women to get more involved in politics. As part of the Women of the World Festival, on 10 March The Parliament Project, a non-partisan initiative to get more women elected across the UK, will be demystifying the political process for women – outlining how the basics of politics works, from joining a party to going campaigning – the focus will be on ‘How to Get Elected’ with special guest speaker Justine Greening MP, ex-Secretary of State for Education. Then on Monday 12th of March, women can join The Parliament Project team and special guest speaker, Jo Swinson, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, in the House of Commons for a ‘Becoming an MP’ workshop. This workshop will outline the process from getting involved with a party to standing as an MP.
“We already have a female Prime Minister, a female Scottish First Minister, surely women have equality now?” Do we really need more women in politics, some ask? In short, yes. As well as research showing that women in politics make better law for women, we need young women to see themselves in politicians. You can’t be what you can’t see, so young girls need to know that they can become MP’s, MSP’s, Prime Minister – that a female politician is not an oddity. Of course this fact is not news. Groups have been working on getting more women into politics for many years. In the US, The White House Project ran from 1998 to 2013 to train women for political office and was replaced by two organisations She Should Run and Vote, Run, Lead, both of whom have seen massive increases in women coming forward to run for office since Trump got elected. In the UK the 300 Group was established in 1980 to encourage women in the UK to stand for election and worked on the issue for 20 years. Prof Sarah Childs spent almost a year in Parliament researching what it would take to bring about systemic change (read her 43 recommendations in The Good Parliament) so we don’t lack knowledge about what needs done.
Numbers have steadily increased from a low of one sole female MP in 1918 to 32% female MP’s in 2018. The support of these campaigns has helped as well as the party’s own internal efforts such as Labour Women’s Network, Conservative Women2Win, Liberal Democrats Women, Fabian Women’s Network, who have a mentoring programme and the Jo Cox leadership Programme, which saw alumni elected as MP’s in the General Election in 2017. The UK has been lacking an active, non-partisan project which encourage women to stand before they reach out to the party’s internal networks. This is where The Parliament Project comes in.
Alongside organisations such as Women 50:50, who successfully push for parties to sign up to quotas for women in politics and on boards in Scotland and the 50:50 Parliament petition and #AskHerToStand campaign driving change for Westminster, The Parliament Project fills a practical gap. Established in 2015 it provides a space for women to think through what really would drive them to get involved, what difference they would like to make. Through free workshops, funded by Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, it gives them the information they need to be able to decide if politics is for them and encourages then to commit to tangible, next steps. It provides the platform for them to take the leap into a political life.
“The non-partisan positioning of the Parliament Project workshop creates a safe space for women to talk freely under Chatham House Rules, seek out support, build a network, set goals, share experiences and exchange contact details to affirm goals and next steps. I’ve become much more confident about ‘getting reading to run’.” – Lauren, Edinburgh workshop participant.
As well as running workshops round England and Scotland, women can participate in free online Q&A sessions with elected women in the #GetReadyToStand webinar series, as they answer questions about how to choose where to stand, how to build a team and how to stay resilient in the face of online abuse or take part in online #GetReadyToStand Peer Support Circles. Support for women should not and must not be limited to urban areas and must be accessible to all women.
“Last week I was selected by the Labour Party to stand as a candidate in the Newcastle City Council elections in May for the Fawdon and West Gosforth ward. I may or may not be successful, but I know that if I hadn't attended that Parliament Project event and, without the supportive network of women the project has generated, I wouldn't even be in the running.” Anya, Newcastle workshop participant.
On this International Women’s Day, why don’t you take the plunge and make 2018 the year you get into politics. Join us.