The political representation of women

In 1970 there were only 26 female MPs out of a total of 650. Why did such a gap exist, and despite improvements, why does it continue to do so? Discover the women who campaigned for equal political representation.

During the 1960s and ‘70s women became increasingly involved in the formal political process. This was as a result of both higher aspirations and increased educational opportunities. Members of the Women’s Liberation Movement, sometimes supported by men in Parliament, actively campaigned for equal political representation.

Lesley Abdela talks about how few women were in Parliament in the 1960s, '70s and '80s

Why should women be involved in the political process?

Feminists have made a range of arguments for the involvement of women in the political process. Some believe that women bring different concerns to the table than men. Others maintain that women have a different perspective from men and that their participation is needed to achieve a balanced, holistic view of politics. A third argument is that we should have a legislature that reflects society as a whole. In 2010 just over 50% of the population was female. In the same year just 22% of MPs in the House of Commons were women. Why does this gap exist and what does it tell us about the differences in women’s and men’s lives, education and concerns?

Bronagh Hinds talks about the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition

Representing women

The government has adopted a number of different strategies to represent women accurately and appropriately. In 1993, for example, the Labour Party introduced all-women shortlists at its annual conference. These were used to select parliamentary candidates in the 1997 general election when Tony Blair was leader of the Labour Party. As a result 101 Labour Party women candidates were elected to Parliament. At the same time 13 female members of the Conservative Party were elected to Parliament and the total number of women in the House of Commons doubled from 60 to 120. In subsequent elections several parties have set quotas for the percentage of women that should be elected. Today there are currently 146 women MPs out of a total of 650. The Conservative Party has 47 women MPs out of a total of 257; the Labour Party has 86 women MPs out of a total of 169; and the Liberal Democrats have 7 women MPs out of a total of 50.

Other mechanisms that have been used to try to involve, and therefore represent, more women in politics are twinning, zipping and women’s committees. In the case of twinning, neighbouring seats put forward one woman and one man candidate at election time. Zipping involves alternating men and women on electoral candidate lists.

Jane Hutt talks about her decision to join the Labour Party 

Banner credit: 'In 400 years...' cartoon © Jacky Fleming www.jackyfleming.co.uk

  • Sisterhood and After Research Team
  • This article was researched and written by the Sisterhood and After Research Team, who are experts in the history of contemporary feminism and narrative life methods. The team included Abi Barber, Dr Polly Russell, Dr Margaretta Jolly, Dr Rachel Cohen, Dr Freya Johnson-Ross and Dr Lucy Delap. Further information about the team and project is available in the About the project section.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.