As a first, the APPG on Women in Parliament has assessed 11 reports, dating from 2014 to the present, which aim to improve gender equality in Parliament and the House. A total 93 recommendations to over 26 different bodies made in the past 10 years have not yet been fully implemented.

A screenshot from the report reading: "Major progress since 20141. The establishment, on a permanent basis, of the Women and Equalities Committee. 2. The setting up of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme for reporting and holding perpetrators accountable for abuse, harassment and bullying. 3. The introduction and expansion of the proxy voting scheme for MPs on baby leave, and additional Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority funding for staff to cover MPs constituency work while caring for a newborn."
A screenshot from the report highlighting recommendations that have been taken forward.

 

To provide some structure and context for their analysis, the team around Dr Minna Cowper-Coles (Global Institute for Women’s Leadership) and Alex Shepherd and Zainab Asunramu (Fawcett Society) have grouped the recommendations for improving gender equality in Parliament into four themes: equality of participation, infrastructure, culture and women’s substantive representation.

Equality of participation

Even though significant progress has been made in this area over the past 10 years, it remains the case that for every two men only one woman is voted into the UK parliament. There should be safeguards in place to ensure a degree of balance into the future.

Some of the recommendations not yet met include:

  • Enact Section 106 of the Equality Act, which requires political parties to report the diversity of their candidates.
  • Take steps to improve media coverage of Parliament, through ensuring there is greater gender balance in the members of the press given access to Parliament, and through a review of sexism in the UK media.

Infrastructure

This area has seen less progress. Access needs and infrastructure that accommodates needs and responsibilities has been adopted slowly. Indeed, those measures brought in during the Covid-19 pandemic that were conducive to this goal have been rolled back without review.

Some of the recommendations not yet met include:

  • Create a new advisory body to push forward the gender-sensitive Parliament agenda.
  • Undertake a published review of Covid-19 measures for their impact on diversity and reintroduce measures which improve predictability and flexibility.
  • Conduct regular audits of the gender-sensitivity of Parliament to assess the adequacy of child-friendly provisions.

Culture

Even though some improvements have been made in this area, regular allegations of harassment and abuse highlight that an actual cultural change has not yet taken place. Threats and abuse from the general public is highly gendered with women MPs suffering greater abuse, especially online, as well as facing threats of a more sexualised nature. Some successes have been recognised, however, for example the creation of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) for addressing complaints of bullying, sexual harassment and abuse.

Some of the recommendations not yet met include:

  • Require training on the Code of Conduct to be mandatory for all passholders.
  • Consider alternative formats for prime minister’s questions where professional behaviour is encouraged.

Women’s substantive representation

It is one thing to increase representation of women in the legislative process. However, it is quite another to ensure that their voices are included and to ensure that legislation is sensitive to gender differences. One major milestone in this area has been the establishment of the Women and Equalities Committee on a permanent basis in 2017. Some of the recommendations not yet met include:

  • Introducing – and potentially making mandatory – training in gender analysis, gender budgeting and mainstreaming, gender impact assessments, gender-sensitive public consultations, unconscious bias and equality legislation for all members and staff.
  • Ensuring there is well signposted information and expertise on gender equality available to members and their staff, through technical research units, expertise within the House of Commons Library, research staff in Parliament, or through formalised relationships with external gender experts.

The way forward in improving gender equality in Parliament

Due to the multitude and complexity of recommendations and issues identified as needing improvement, the report calls for a “guiding body which can help accelerate the pace of reform, monitor changes and celebrate progress.” There is no one simple measure that will ensure fair representation, adequate infrastructure, cultural change and substantive representation. Many factors contribute to the status quo, not least wider socio-economic and cultural barriers. But as the legislative body of the UK, it is crucial that the UK Parliament itself addresses any barriers which might be stopping women from all backgrounds from full participation in our elected chambers.

 

Background

A screenshot from the report reading: "The reports that inform this analysisImproving Parliament (2014) The Good Parliament (2016) UK Gender-Sensitive Parliament Audit (2018) Equality in the heart of democracy (2022) The Remotely Representative House (2021) A House for Everyone (2023) Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians (2016) Plan of action (2017) Gender Sensitising Parliaments Guidelines (2020) Realizing Gender Equality in Parliament (2021) Effective and Inclusive Parliaments (2022)"
A screenshot from the report listing the 11 reports that have formed the basis of the analysis.

This report was published by the APPG on Women in Parliament, and researched and written by Dr Minna Cowper-Coles of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, and Alex Shepherd and Zainab Asunramu of the Fawcett Society.

It Open House is an audit of the UK House of Commons in relation to the recommendations made in 11 reports, dating from 2014 to the present, which aim to improve gender diversity in the House and Parliament, support women MPs, and highlight international best practice.

 

Find all the recommendations here »

 

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