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:

"A parliament which reflects the demography of the nation it represents will result in better legislation and a higher degree of public confidence in the democratic process. We would be concerned if the Scottish election results in a parliament which is less diverse than it was in 1999, 2003 or 2007."

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.


Joe Public said...

Let the best candidates put themselves forward & win on merit.

To weight an election in favour of one particular group, is by definition an acceptance that 2nd best 'will do'.

How does Chris Oswald, know that "A parliament which reflects the demography of the nation it represents will result in better legislation and a higher degree of public confidence in the democratic process."? Where is his proof? I suspect that that statement is merely an opinion from an organisation with a vested interest.

subrosa said...

I used to think that way Joe, but I realise many men within politics will do anything to keep a woman from 'taking' their job.

Isn't putting them on the list 2nd best too? Two wrongs don't make a right.

The problem isn't women the problem is men who just can't see women are equal.

Jo G said...

I'm with Joe on this one Subrosa. It has to be on merit every time. As a woman myself I would never want to be in a particular position simply because of my gender. Women only short-lists for me have always been something that smacked of the very discrimination we all claimed to be against.

It has to be said tho that in politics the sacrifices for a woman, especially if she is a mother, must be much tougher. It is an exhausting life. I know we can give politicians a pounding but it is demanding job and no mistake. I'd say in partnerships with children men are more suited to not being around. And maybe their children don't miss them as much as a mum. I don't think that's sexist. Some things are just the way they are.

The other thing is that women have been urged/inspired, to begin with, to go for it, to have it all and ultimately realised no one is superwoman.

What we should remember too is that even if we are not represented in more significant numbers it doesn't stop us from influencing politics.

Disenfranchised of Buckingham said...

For my sins I spent 10 years in Conservative politics in the Thatcher era.

In those days women were almost the dominent force in the constituencies and in my experience the women on selection committees were much less likely to look at a woman candidate, especially an under 40 woman, than the men.

Similarly it seemed to me that it was the likes of my mother who were more opposed to women priests in the CofE.

It seems to me that dominent women don't want other women in postitions to chalenge their authority while they are accepting of men.

Having said that, as a man, I will always support the best person irrespective of their gender or race but maybe not religion.

subrosa said...

I used to think like you Jo, but my views changed when I saw how men defend their jobs in politics and give little or no help to women. The SNP are perhaps the best party in Scotland to do so but they're far from perfect.

Politics isn't any more of a demanding job than many others. Just because it's so well paid it's certainly not harder work.

I think women are kept out of politics by men and I think there are plenty women around who are just as capable as men to be politicians.

Yes of course women have to juggle far more, but it's it better to have a good female representative in parliament for one term than a useless male one for decades?

subrosa said...

There's something in what you say DoB.

Why not religion though? Aren't women capable of having the ability to represent both sexes in faith?

Anonymous said...

This is a minefield of sensitivities... but for what it’s worth here’s my 2p. (Remember I have no sensitivities!!!)

There are inherent dangers with any positive discrimination. Whether he or she is white or black, homo or hetero sexual, disabled or not disabled, old or young... the candidate (and that can be for any job, not just parliament) will often be disadvantaged because it looks like they have been put there for balancing.

In politics discrimination is unfair to the constituents, who deserve the best candidate whether that candidate is hermaphrodite, mixed race, bisexual, nonagenarian or a middle aged, middle class, white, heterosexual man with a wife and 2.4 children... and a doag!.

It can also mean the difference between a party forming a government or being in opposition. People imposed have lost elections before, especially where a more able candidate from the same party has been moved aside and has stood as an independent.

I can’t understand what the problems are for any minority. We have laws that say everyone is equal, therefore there is nothing to stop any person from any “minority” being an MSP.

I hear what your friends are saying about the argy bargy and shouting of Holyrood, but I see the women doing that every bit as much as the men, clapping, shouting, battering the desks. (The Tories seem a little less inclined to that.) I know there are problems with childcare, but surely that should be equally a man’s problem. Indeed amongst my married female colleagues who have to work odd hours if required, and among nurses who are usually women and many other professions, the couple must come to an arrangement about it, so why cannot MSPs? After all their holidays are monumental and the wage is fabulous (for some of the people I see there, absolutely amazing...at least twice what they could get elsewhere). They can afford childcare... as so many other people have to. They really have got it made compared to the poor family that has to juggle shift patterns at Asda with a bus drivers’ job.

Frankly I think politicians are a bunch of whingers.

As for the democratic process. It’s pish posh. There is little democratic process at their level. In so many situations they vote the way they are told to vote, unless they are half witted enough to press the wrong button. The democratic process takes place at party managers’ level and is a game of numbers.

Anonymous said...

PS: I remember watching a biopic on Thatcher. She was turned down for constituencies despite having excellent qualifications, usually by females on the selection panels who asked what she would do with her two young children. Of course the answer to that was that she would hire someone to look after them. They were the least of her interests. It’s also true that she promoted very few women, and I don’t know that she ever had a female cabinet member in her 12 years as PM

English Pensioner said...

I worked as an electrical engineer and there were very few women in this field, one suspects because they didn't like the conditions of work, particularly on site where there were frequently minimal facilities. Most who were interested in engineering tended to end up working on computers or software which was perhaps more congenial.
I suspect it could be the same with politics, that relatively few women want get involved, preferring to use their talents elsewhere.
My wife is very involved with UKIP, but nothing on earth would make her stand as a candidate, even for the local elections.
On that basis, the numbers standing probably accurately reflect the numbers who are prepared to put their names forward in the first place

cynicalHighlander said...

I'm with JP on this that the best person for the job no matter the sex.

SB very few women I have come across are interested in politics, yes there are exceptions, as others things are on their minds. I assert that male/female priorities in life appear to be listed in different orders as women in general look short term down a particular path, which is understandable, rather than assess the longer term consequences of their choices. "Never let a women see a job half done" comes to mind.:)

Disenfranchised of Buckingham said...

SR, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against women priests, as an atheist it is nothing to do with me.

I was implying, badly, that I would have problems with people of certain religions or depth of convictions, T Bliar for example.

Disenfranchised of Buckingham said...

Tris, there was one, Baroness Young for a year or two.

I think this illustrates my point. Women have a strong tendancy to avoid competing with other women.

subrosa said...

EP, things have move on in the engineering field since we were young. There are plenty females taking degrees in all aspects of engineering these days and very recently I've met three female civil engineers to do with my voluntary work. Mind you, they looked terribly young. :)

subrosa said...

Jings Tris, these days there's little problem with childcare. Every mother seems to have some hours of childcare available for her whether they're working or not. Things were different 30 years ago. I would have been better off on benefits than working by the time I paid childcare costs - taking into account the long school holidays.

subrosa said...

I disagree CH. I think as many women are interested in politics as men. Are you suggesting men have little on their minds? ;)

Women look short term...? I could gather a group of 10 women to confront you with that remark. All planned careers and I mean lengthy careers. Some of us diverted for various reasons but none were short-termers.

subrosa said...

Ah I see your point now DoB. Sorry to misinterpret it.

subrosa said...

Perhaps that's because we don't like confrontation DoB and politics seems to be about that.

Another reason told to me today was that being a female politician wouldn't suit because it's all talk and little action. Women like to see results. :)

subrosa said...

Sorry Tris, I missed your first comment.

Doesn't putting women top of the regional lists look as if they've been put there for balancing?

That could well be another reason Tris. Women don't like to have to toe any line if they disagree - not even to keep their job. Think Margo MacDonald, but she's managed it independent of any party.

Budvar said...

Rosie, why the obsession with "equality"? Sorry if I'm overstating the bleedin obvious here, but people are not now, ever have been or ever will be equal.

We've had this discussion before, and you said something along the lines of you meant "equality of opportunity".

This in and of itself I have no problem with, best person for the job as it were.

Thing is equality of opportunity rarely if ever equates to the best person for the job, but incompetents employed way beyond their abilities and a whittling away of standards to ensure quotas are filled as anyone who isn't a white hetro male with a university education are under represented.

When you/we go down this route, where do we draw the line? Well I'm a 50 yo fat bloke who's as blind as a bat with the reflexes of a galapagos tortoise, and it's unfair I and others like me are denied the opportunity to become fighter pilots and we're seriously under represented too....

subrosa said...

Budvar, I don't think I have an obsession about equality. Perhaps the word 'balance' is more appropriate. We need balance in politics which means involving as many men and women.

Auch Budvar, you know as well as I do that the 'best person for the job' doesn't particularly apply in politics. It's usually the most compliant who is the best.

This post was about women in politics. The dreams of fat 50+ year old, half blind men weren't included because I hear them regularly. :)

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