Where are the women in politics?

Secretary-General Swears in Head of UN Women

According to UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon “Equality for women and girls is not only a basic human right, it is a social and economic imperative.” This speech highlights why gender equality has been recognised as one of eight global priorities in the UN’s 2015 Millennium Development Goals. Although, in such a culturally diverse global community, gender is far from being a unique factor in the division of power, wealth and status it marks a monumental step on to the ladder of equality. It begs the question: how can we implement this common aspiration worldwide?

The political sphere has long been perceived as the pioneer of the social contract and its gift to its citizens has been civil rights. But who deserved these rights has been in question for a long time. Preconceived notions of male dominance written in ancient religious texts and archaic constitutions excluded women from the political domain. In 2013 the suffragettes’ dream of the vote for women has been realised in a large proportion of the globe. Next on the agenda is not only equal representation in legislative bodies, but in decision-making bodies generally.

In Wales, women currently make up 41.7% of Assembly Members, in contrast to a pitiful 17.5% Welsh MPs at Westminster. Only 9 women are tasked with representing Welsh women, a place ravaged with health and unemployment issues, which according to the UN disproportionately impact on women. Even when the status quo that rules Westminster allows the entry of a few women into the legislative core, they have asserted that they must be malleable according to Norris, one in an army of academics currently analysing the under-representation of women in Politics.

There are few women who engage in politics, because there are few women in politics. This catch-22 situation has long challenged the legitimacy of British democracy. However, the promise of all-female candidate shortlists conceals the blemishes on the face of British democracy. This rings like music in the ears of the Feminist movement, which has a new generation of bras to burn. With the resurrection of the Feminist Times this year, it appears that Feminism is back, but has it had a facelift? For a long time the word Feminist has appeared like more of a swear word than a term of endearment. But why is this? The radicalism of the Feminist dialogue during the ‘70s created the misconception that all Feminists were men-hating lesbians. But now is the time to demonstrate that you don’t have to be a lesbian to love women.

If, like over 50 countries world-wide, we require legislatively bound quotas, then so be it. In response to claims that positive discrimination does not promote equality, I offer you this perspective: it is the special treatment of women which puts a stop to the special treatment of men in pursuit of gender equality. But, if as (Norris, 2002) suggests, women are selected according to their willingness to submit to their male peers, then we, women of Britain, need to reinstate girl power and show our support for putting women’s rights on the agenda.

I dedicate this article to Emily Davison, who famously, quite literally laid down her life in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, in order for British women to have the vote. Sadly it appears for the 36% of women that didn’t vote in the last election, she sacrificed herself in vain. So mums, sisters and daughters of Britain, don’t just say you believe in equal rights. At every given opportunity, please vote for them.

For more details about the current lack of female presence in decision-making bodies in the UK, please visit: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Sex-and-Power-2013-FINAL-REPORT.pdf . Last accessed: 24.11.2013.

Lowri Pritchard


Krook, M. (2008). Quota Laws for Women in Politics: Implications for Feminist Practice. Social Politics. 15 (3), 345-368.

Lovenduski, J & Norris, P. (2003). Westminster Women: The Politics of Presence. Political Studies, 51(1), 84–102.

Norris, P. (2002). ‘Gender and contemporary British politics’, in C. Hay (ed.), British Politics Today. Cambridge: Polity.

UN Women. (2013) Available at: http://www.unwomenuk.org/ . Last accessed: 24.11.2013

UN Women. (2013). Available at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/5/op-ed-a-global-goal-on-gender-equality-womens-rights-and-womens-empowerment/ . Last accessed: 24.11.2013

UN Women. (2013). Available at: http://www.unifem.org/gender_issues/women_poverty_economics/ . Last accessed: 25.11.2013

Wales Online. (2013). Available at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/harriet-harman-wales-sends-few-2513104 . Last accessed: 25.11.2013.