Do we really need more female MPs?

Women’s Equality month, which I am confident International Women’s day has now permanently branded into everyone’s calendars, provided female activists, campaigners, journalists, and politicians with a platform to progress ‘equality’. Among the loudest and most frequently repeated issues raised on the day were the need for more female MPs and a more representative Houses of Parliament.

The Women’s Equality party are the new girls on the Westminster block. Chief among their political objectives is achieving “equal representation.” They claim that if the UK was to have more equal political representation, “violence against women and the specific needs of women in our health service would be taken more seriously”.

Data collated by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, assessing the numbers of women in parliaments throughout the globe will give you a frankly confusing impression of whether it is right to say that governments actually need to be more reflective of the societies they govern.

Among the Top 10 countries with the highest percentage of female parliamentarians are: Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Seychelles, Sweden, Senegal, Mexico, South Africa, Ecuador, and Finland.

The United Kingdom currently trails behind in 48th place with women making up only 29.4% of the 650 seats. We have, nonetheless, improved since the last parliament which, in May 2010, had only 143 female MPs (22% of the government) leaving us in 50th place.

It feels instinctively bigoted to add that in 2010 we came below Iraq, just as it seems intuitively unusual that so many South American countries appear at the top of the list. 

Of the required support from charities and development funds to improve political participation of women. Among the countries which have more female parliamentarians than Britain in South and Central America are: Bolivia, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Trinidad and Tobago.

As of March 2016 we have only got 2.1% more female MPs than Belarus, infamously known as Europe’s last remaining dictatorship.

To begin to get a more comprehensive understanding of the real political landscape, simply looking at the number of MPs is not enough. Moreover, simply saying that more female MPs will improve government is entirely without justification.

The international female aid charity, Womenkind, working in collaboration with the local partner (CDIMA) has to date spent tens of thousands of pounds, working “to support women to take on leadership roles within their communities and combat violence against women and girls.”

Despite achieving an over 50/50 gender split in the Bolivian parliament, domestic violence against women  reportedly affected as many as 70% of women across the country. In the UK too, on International Women’s Day, even more repeated than the need for more female MPs, was the UN Women statistic that over a third of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence, most commonly by an intimate partner.

Perhaps even worse, is the situation in Sweden which is often lauded as being one of the most gender equal countries and 5th on the table of female parliamentarians. In a recent study by European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Sweden topped the tables for the number of women who have been sexually harassed since the age of 15, with a staggering 81% of women. This compares to an EU average of 55%.

Quite self-evidently, Sweden’s respected culture for gender equality and high political female representation have not improved the incidences of sexual “violence” against women.

Even if it can be legitimately inferred that in a country like Sweden where the reporting rate might just be higher than it is in Bolivia, there is clearly still an underlying problem which is not improved simply by having more female MPs. If it is actually true that the reporting rate in Sweden is just higher because of their more equal culture (something I find uncomfortable anyway), then just how bad is the state of countries like Bolivia where the reporting rate may be low?

If anything, it goes to show that, given the comparison, it seems striking that not only is there no link between more MPs and better rights for women, but rather that the opposite is true. Whether it is Sweden, Bolivia, or the UK and EU generally, unfortunately it appears that a systemic problem is being hijacked by parties and movements who are confusing the problem of women’s equality, with their own political ambitions.




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