Election Night Womens representation – jenny robins
Illustration by Jenny Robins
I didn’t plan on staying up so late on Election night. I had well-meaning plans involving a cup of tea, dosage my pajamas and being tucked up in bed with a book by 10pm. But like many people, hospital as soon as the exit polls rolled in, I was hooked. My emotions swung from disbelief to elation, despair to complete confusion, the latter being the prevailing feeling.
I am not sure if there is any other point in the year where this is the case, but all eyes were on Sunderland. Initially I was baffled by the focus on rushing to count the votes. I would rather it was accurate than rushed, it isn’t Total Wipeout (although how I wish it was! Imagine – the party leaders racing round the course, being pounded with mechanical fists and squaring up to the Big Balls?!) But as the first, second and third result came in, I realized that for a brief, bizarre moment, we had a 100% female government. Imagine that. And bloomin bizarre it was. But why? Why is it so hard to imagine an all female government?
The sad reality is that women are still dramatically under-represented in key areas of public, political and economic life: In the last British Parliament of 646 there were only 126 female MPs. This is abysmal. We lag far far behind countries like Afghanistan, Rwanda, Senegal and Latvia when it comes to women’s representation. The majority of UK senior civil servants, directors of FTSE 100 companies, senior lawyers, and key figures in the media are men. No wonder so many teenage girls cite Katie Price as their role model, though that does make me want to eat my own face. If women are excluded from the top jobs, half the talent of the nation is wasted.
llustration by Jenny Robins
I went to bed around 2.30am unable to keep my eyes open any more, with an excited, but admittedly naïve, confidence that this election would see a significant increase In women in parliament. According to the Centre for Women and Democracy and the Fawcett Society, Thursday’s General Election resulted in… wait for it….. drum roll…… 142 women MPs. Yes! That’s an extra 16! Oh- no, wait a minute… 142 female MP’s in a parliament of 649…. that’s only 22% of parliament. On a positive note, this included Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, and the election of Britain’s first ever female Asian MPs. A tiny bit better, but overall its pathetic, quite frankly. Fuck.
As I write this, there is speculation about the leader of the labour party. Oh, more white men? Déjà vu anyone? Will a women even stand? But more alarmingly, Cameron is currently forming his new cabinet, and according to the BBC, not a single women has been appointed to the cabinet yet, and I’m pretty sure that not a single woman has even been mentioned. Sweet mercy. From bad to dire.
UPDATE: 4 women were appointed to the cabinet, none in the top jobs. This still puts us far behind our European counterparts. Theresa May is the new Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, who, according to theyworkforyou voted against rights for gay people. Go figure.
This has to change. If women’s representation continues to creep up in 1 or 2 percentage points like it has done up until now it will literally take decades before women are fairly represented in our country. Women only shortlists may sound drastic to some but when you consider the state of women’s representation nationally, you realize that it’s drastically needed.
And then there is proportional representation. Oh sweet, fair, idolized proportional representation! How we long for you! It is a clear olive branch standing out from the mushy confused mess of the election result. (Lib-lab, lab-con, Con-dem anyone?) The case for voter reform is more convincing than ever.
There are apparently gazilillions of different proportional representation systems, but roughly it means that if a party receives 10% of the vote, they receive 10% representation, which is hundreds of miles better than the system we have now when a party receives 51% of the vote but 100% of the influence in parliament. The Electoral Reform Society explains one system thus; “At present, constituencies are represented in parliament by just one MP. Under a Single Transferable Vote system, each constituency is represented by a small group of representatives…This makes it possible for representatives of different parties to be elected in each ward, thus allowing more people to have representatives of the parties of their choice.” Having a group of representatives in each constituency will mean that it will be even more blindingly obvious if women are not represented there (same for other minority groups too). In other countries that operate proportional representation more women are nominated, and the more women are nominated the more they are elected. Proportional representation also means that people can vote according to what they actually believe in (like, for example, electing more women to parliament, amongst other things) rather than tactically to keep certain parties in or out.
Illustration by Sandra Dieckmann
So yes. Women are still dismally under represented. Yes, teenage girls are growing up saving for boob jobs. Yes, we heard more about the dresses of the leaders wives than we did the policies of the female candidates. But it is time to say no. We wont stand for our outdated, old fashioned, unfair voting system any more… Takebackparliament , a coalition of a range of different voter reform groups have organised a demonstration calling for voter reform on Saturday. When you’re talking to your kids and grandkids in years to come about this bonkers election, don’t say you watched it on facebook and TV. Say you got involved and made a difference.
Join them this Saturday At 2pm at Parliament Sq.
*climbs down off soap box and sneaks away quietly….*
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