Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Women And Politics
This election, as in others, I'll leave the number crunchers such as Jeff, Malc and the Burd, to do their comprehensive analyses of central belt constituencies, but I would like briefly to discuss the recently headline in the Guardian: 'Steep decline in number of women candidates in Scotland and Wales'.
Equality campaigners predict that the number of women elected to Holyrood on 5 May will be the lowest on record and the Guardian found less than 30% of the major parties' candidates will be women.
Ruth Fox, director of parliament and government at the Hansard Society, said these figures strengthened the case for new measures to force parties to introduce equal representation such as women-only shortlists or 'gender balancing'. Nan Sloan, CEO of the Electoral Reform Society also suggests compulsory mechanisms to ensure that all political parties play their part in making sure women are properly represented.
In Scotland 73 of the 129 seats are from constituencies. In both Scotland and Wales 75% of constituency candidates are men. The Tories and Libdems insist their candidates are selected on merit regardless of gender or ethnicity while Plaid Cymru reserves top places on its regional lists for women and also uses 'zipping'(where men and women alternate) to create 'gender balanced' lists. The SNP has no such policy.
Labour and the Greens take no positive action in constituencies but use zipping on their regional lists. In most regions the top list place is taken by a woman or ethnic minority candidate.
Only 28% of Holyrood candidates for next month's election are women.
Chris Oswald, head of policy and parliamentary affairs at the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland:
By all accounts the male to female ratio in the next Scottish Parliament will be less diverse than previously. Should this concern us? Yes, if only to create another question: why are women not attracted to high public office? Do women still feel they're expected to 'unsex' themselves before being entrusted with the responsibilities of state or do many consider juggling careers and family obligations too much, even though great efforts are made to provide quality childcare and adapt working hours more suited to family life?
Of the three main parties in Holyrood, the SNP has shown - albeit without a party policy - that women are equal in the party hierarchy. Do women require specific skills to enter into a world in which men still dominate? I think they do but it is, very slowly, becoming easier. Women still face a sea of sex-specific challenges while running for office but these challenges no longer manifest themselves in predictable ways. Women are more prepared to challenge men and not succumb to their confrontational tactics.
In the Scottish Parliament there is less of the 'old boys' network' than is obvious in Westminster, so why are so few women standing as constituency candidates? Selecting them as top list candidates smacks of tokenism.
When I discuss politics with friends the women often remark about the behaviour of politicians. "All they do is shout at each other, I couldn't be doing with that," is often expressed. I agree Holyrood is more civilised but still it doesn't attract enough women to positions of influence.
There is no shortage of able women in any of the political parties, but the number selected remains low. They are less likely to be elected because they are more likely than men to be fighting seats which they have little or no chance of winning.
Because many women often enter political life later than men, the 'wait your turn, work your way up' attitude can have them not running until much later making access to higher level politics seem too slow.
Should we be legislating for all-women short lists? If women lose more interest in the political process then we lose the voice for half the population. Women will lose representation and will become even more marginalised in the political process.
My generation and those before me have fought long and hard for equality. The problem isn't women it is men's attitudes to women. If men still are not prepared to accept women as their political equals then women can no longer wait for them to change their minds. We need to break the cycle now and if it has to be done legally, so be it.