Why should we fight for more women at Westminster? Men currently outnumber women 2:1, but what impact is this having on the UK as a whole? Lucy Skoulding on the fight for a 50:50 parliament.
Frances Scott formed the basis of 50:50 Parliament when her eight-year-old daughter was elected to her school council. "There’s always a boy and a girl from each class," she explained to Frances, "boys don’t understand the decision around whether we should wear skirts or trousers to school and we don’t understand how the boys’ toilets get so dirty. Our experiences are different."
Over the next few years Frances began wondering why Westminster wasn’t the same. She began talking to people about the idea of two-seat constituencies with one male and one female MP. Time passed, and Frances continued her life as a mother and antenatal teacher, but the burning desire to do something never left her mind. “The experience of giving birth had not got better, even though we knew how it should get better, and no wonder when most people in parliament don’t [give birth to] babies so it’s not an experience they can empathise with directly.” When one day Frances heard Oxbridge professors debating the two-seat constituencies idea on the radio, she launched a petition on Change.org and 50:50 Parliament was founded.
Embarking on a journey: why we need to fight
Despite gaining less initial support than she expected, Frances worked to promote 50:50’s name. The political landscape began to change and the 50:50 movement grew. Nicola Sturgeon was elected as leader of the SNP and Baroness Scotland showed her public support of 50:50.
Looking at 50:50’s membership now, there are so many different women, all from different backgrounds, careers, and political views but all who want the same thing: equal seats and equal say for both genders at Westminster.
Hannah Philp is a 50:50 ambassador and founder of Her Stories, a charity raising money for women’s charities through art. “I really believe in 50:50’s mission, which is to ensure that women have an equal say in the laws that are made. I also believe that parliament should themselves be more representative of this country,” says Hannah. Currently there aren’t enough women putting themselves forward, for many reasons, but one is the lack of female political role models to follow.
There is also the fact misogyny is still present in Westminster, as the recent sexual harassment cases highlighted, but it is also fuelled by some of the mainstream media. The Daily Mail ‘Legs-it’ incident is a prime example of this. “Women are targeted more than men and particularly if they put themselves forward and try to do anything political,” says Hannah. Frances continued to build support for 50:50. It wasn’t easy and in 2017 she felt close to giving up after losing her husband and feeling as if she was getting nowhere with the campaign. Then #Askhertostand was born.
Ask Her To Stand
The #Askhertostand campaign is a practical way of trying to increase the number of women from all backgrounds who are in parliament to make it more representative of society. “Everyday women are signing up to stand and we liaise with the parties to put these women in the right direction,” said Frances.
“What if we all started asking the great women we know to stand and think about politics, to help them change the perception of themselves?” added Hannah. Dolly Theis, a Cambridge PhD epidemiology student, worked closely with Hannah to craft #Askhertostand.“Despite being different political camps, we have a beautiful friendship and by working together on this we could show the world that we could get on! We just want good people in parliament,” she said. “A lot of the work I do is cross party because ultimately we’ve got to all work together. The best solutions come out of that.”
Ask Her To Stand is such a simple way for both men and women to take action and improve representation in Westminster. It doesn’t cost anything to say to someone - "I think you should be involved in politics,” says Hannah.
It’s time for deeds, not words
The long-term goal for 50:50 is to see a truly equal gender representation in Westminster, but there are many complex layers to this. While 50:50 currently focuses on fight for gender equality, Frances views this as a piece of the wider puzzle. We must fight for representation across all diversities and areas of life. There is also the fact that gender itself means many different things to different people.
“I would always think about parliament being representative of society, and one that is evolving. The more people who don’t identify as either gender makes the gender issue for those people irrelevant and more about representing a specific viewpoint,” says Hannah.
For Dolly the future is bright, and she is very clear about her ambitions as a 50:50 ambassador. “We want to bump the numbers up big time ahead of the next election. [We need] women of all backgrounds, ages, and stories to stand for election. The commonality is just an incredibly passionate desire to change things.”
You can sign up at 5050parliament.co.uk