A democracy for women

Description

English

Lesley Abdela talks about how few women were in Parliament in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. She comments on the difference between the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and Westminster. Lesley also talks about quotas for women and all-women shortlists.

Why do you think that the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales have achieved greater representation of women than Westminster has?

What makes a good politician or Member of Parliament?

What are the positive effects of quotas and all-women shortlists? What are some of the criticisms of these methods? What is your opinion?

Film credits
Producer / Director: Lizzie Thynne
Editor / Research assistant: Peter Harte

Transcript

Transcript

The 300 group began after I stood for Parliament in 1979, that was the general election where Margaret Thatcher was elected but she was one of only 19 women out of 635 MPs. That’s roughly 3.5% of Parliament were women, about the same as Afghanistan at the time. And we wanted to aim for eventually at least half Parliament should be women. We thought we couldn’t be the 317.5 group that would be silly, so if we called it the 300 group that signalled we didn’t mean just a few more women in Parliament, we really meant business.

A lot of women then and now don’t really belong to a political party because they really don’t feel any of the parties relate to them very well. So we decided what better place to launch than the Grand Committee Room in the House of Commons and we were terribly naive, we actually just had to make up the plot as we went along. So we then had to get a list of women’s organisations and political parties, women activists and so on and you had to remember there was no email. I think faxes were just starting and it was letters and telephone calls and a lot of hard grind. It started the ripples. So one thing led on to another, for example, very soon, I think it was Joyce Gould in the Labour Party. The Labour Party had decided there would be at least one woman on their shortlists of candidates. Later on, when I wrote a book about women in politics and interviewed about 36 of them, Mo Mowlam - who became a government minister and great heroine to many of us, Northern Ireland minister and so on - told me that she got chosen for Redcar because at the last minute that Labour party up there realised they didn’t have a woman on their candidates list so they quickly looked for one. Now they got a marvellous one, so you know you get all these ripples down and this is why I can’t say we did this or they did that. One thing leads to another, the atmosphere and so on.

The political parties were a bit suspicious of us, because the Conservatives some of them thought we must be a leftish plot, Labour Party were very suspicious of working with any women of other parties, particularly Conservatives, my own party, the old British Liberal Party before it became the Liberal Democrats, thought it was a bit treacherous why wasn’t I just working in the liberal party only. Then at the time you have to remember it was also still the iron curtain and at one point people started saying well they must be funded by the KGB or the CIA or something like this. We used to laugh about this and say would that we were; it was coming out of my pocket and other people, volunteers. Quite often the women going in as Members of Parliament they were just mistaken for secretaries by police, or researchers. The perceptions were different, there were so few women Members of Parliament.

Now of course in Parliament we have about 22% Members of Parliament are women. That puts us not very high up on the league of the world. There are 29 countries in the world right now that have at least 30% women in their legislatures. What’s interesting is at least a third of those countries are countries who’ve gone through a conflict or a big change like the end of apartheid. So one of the first was South Africa because they’re starting with a clean sheet. If you come back to Westminster here it’s got all this historic baggage. We’ve also got a first past the post voting system and all the countries, except Scotland and Wales, that have more than 30% women in parliament have two things in common: they have some sort of proportional voting system and they have combined with PR some sort of quota system. Here, because we have first past the post it’s very difficult to do a quota system. Labour did try their very brave experiment of all women shortlists for a while and that did bump the number of women up to 121 women in the 1997 election. Just before the 1997 election I happened to be in Ethiopia running a workshop. I said I want to go and see Sylvia Pankhurst’s grave and I want to lay a flower there. I made a wish that in the 1997 election we would break through the 100 barrier, and we did, so thank you Sylvia to that one.
Title:
A democracy for women
Duration:
6:13
Format:
Video
Language:
English
Collection:
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
Copyright:
© British Library
Held by
British Library

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