Where are all the women?

Are women being under-represented in politics and what can help redress the in balance - Ronit Wolfson investigates.

By Ronit Wolfson

Looking around the audience at the Progress annual conference this weekend I was struck, as I often am at these type of events, at how few female faces I saw. From what I can gather, the Fabian Society conference the week before wasn’t much better. The question we need to ask ourselves is not can Progress (or the Fabians) do more – events like Progress’ recent women’s only selection training are just one example of the support women on the left can expect from the organisation.

The real question is at a conference which is self-selecting, why were less than a third of attendees women? Stephen Twigg MP commented that at the foreign policy break out session, at which he was speaking, there was a distinct lack of women both on the panel and in the audience (six women compared with 33 men). I don’t think that these numbers would have changed much had the panel included Harriet Harman or Jen Gerber.

The Tory-led government is not standing up for women, is not speaking for women and is not representing women. While Ken Clarke’s comments could be read as a bit of an own goal from an experienced politician, regressive views about women still appear to be prevalent among Tories – recent comments by Nadine Dorries and Roger Helmer MEP are but two examples.

Sexist dinosaurs aside, women are being disproportionately affected by the cuts. I do not believe that only women can speak for women, but any party that claims to do so must be representative.

There are not enough women in politics – at all levels. The fact that are only three women in the Scottish shadow cabinet is an embarrassment and undermines our feminist credentials. Yes, we need more support and more visible role models but to some extent, sisters need to do it for themselves.

Liv Bailey stood up this weekend and asked Ed Miliband if Labour was a feminist party. I believe we are, and that the values of feminism are, for most of us, at the heart of what we stand for. So as we rebuild and regroup in opposition we must seek to rectify the massive under representation of women in our movement. But it starts with us.

They say that decisions are made by those who turn up, and I hope that at the next Progress annual conference more of us decide to do so.

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